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Full text of "Post haste : a tale of Her Majesty's mails"

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POST HASTE 



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A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 







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BY R M. BALLANTYNE; 

* A 

AfTTHOR Of "the lonely ISLAND;" " IN THE TRACK OF THE TROOPS;" "THE 

SETTLER AND THE SAVAGE ;" "UNDER THE WAVES;" " RIVERS OF ICE ;" " BLACK 

ivory;" "the PIRATE CITY ;" "ERLING the bold ;" "the NORSEMEN 

IN THE WEST ;" " THE IRON HORSE ;" " FIGHTING THE FLAMES ;" 

" THE FLOATING LIGHT ;" "SHIFTING WINDS;" "DEEP 

down" " the LIGHTHOUSE ;" " THE LIFEBOAT;" 

" GASCOYNE ;" " THE GOLDEN DREAM," ETC. 



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THIRTLENTH THOUSAND. 




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LONDON: 
JAMES NISBET & CO., 21 BERNERS STREET. 

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CONTENTS. 



PAGE 

CHAP. I.— A HERO AND HIS WORSHIPPER, .... 1 

II.— TELLS OF woman's WORK AND SOJIE OF WOMAN'S 

WAYS, 11 

III.— BRILLIANT PROSPECTS, 25 

IV,— THE ROYAL MAIL STEAMER 29 

v.— WRECK AND RESCUE, 36 

VI. — TREATS OF POVERTY, PRIDE, AND FIDELITY, . . 54 

VII. — PHIL BEGINS LIFE, AND MAKES A FRIEND, . . 72 

VIII.— DOWNWARD— DEEPER AND DEEPER, .... 86 

IX.— MR. BLURT AND GEORGE ASPEL IN PECULIAR CIRCUM- 
STANCES, 99 

X.— A JIYSTERY CLEARED UP, 116 

XI.— THE LETTER-CARRIER GOES HIS ROUNDS, AIDS A LITTLE 

GIRL, AND OVERWHELMS A LADY STATISTICALLY, . 130 

XII.— IN WHICH A BOSOM FRIEND IS INTRODUCED, RURAL 
FELICITY IS ENLARGED ON, AND DEEP PLANS ARE 

LAID, 155 

XIII.— MISS LILLYCROP GETS A SERIES OF SURPRISES, . . 170 

XTV. — FORMATION OF THE PEGAWAY LITERARY ASSOCIATION 

AND OTHER MATTERS, 195 

XV. — GEORGE ASPEL RECEIVES VARIOUS VISITORS AT THE 
ORNITHOLOGICAL SHOP, AND IS CALLED TO VIGOR- 
OUS ACTION, 207 



VI CONTENTS. 

PAQI 
CHAP. XVI.— BEGINS WITH JUVENILE FLIRTATION AND ENDS 

WITH CANINE CREMATION, 22^ 

XVII.— TOTTIE AND MRS. BONES EN DIFFICULTY, . . 23£ 

XVm. — BUSINESS INTERFERED WITH IN A REMARKABLE 

MANNER, 255 

XIX.— DEEP-LAID PLAKS FOR CHECKMATING MR. BONES, . 26( 

XX.— THE POST OP THE OLDEN TIME, . . . . 26£ 

XXI.— TELLS OF A SERIES OF TERRIBLE SURPRISES, . . 291 

XXII. — SHOWS HOW ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER, AND 

SOON, 30i 

XXni.— THE TURNING-POINT, 32; 

XXrV. — PLANS Airo COUNTER PLANS, .... 34 ( 

XXV.— LIGHT SHINING IN DARK PLACES, . . . 35> 

XXVI.— TELLS OP A SHAM FIGHT AND A REAL BATTLE, . 3(-'. 

XXVn, — THE GREATEST BATTLE OF ALL, . . . . 3^ ' 

XXVin.— THE STORMING OF ROCKY COTTAGE AND OTHER ,; 

MATTERS, 3£i 

XXIX.— DESCRIBES AN INTERVIEW AND A RENCONTRE, . 401 

XXX. — THE LAST, 41£ 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 

AV UNLOOKED-FOR LETTER-DELIVERY— (page 258)- 

Frontispiece. 
ILLUSTRATED TITLE. 

I RST MEETING OF PHIL AND PAX, . . to face p. 76 

A .PEL AND PHIL WATCH A THIEF, .... 120 

S }LOMON AND TOTTIE, 132 

INSIDE OF THE LETTER-BOX, 180 



CHAPTEE 1. 



A HERO AND HIS WORSHIPPER. 



Once upon a time — only once, observe, she did 
not do it twice — a widow of the name of May lands 
went, in a fit of moderate insanity, and took up her 
abode in a lonely, tumble- down cottage in the west 
of Ireland. 

Mrs. Maylands was very poor. She was the 
widow of an English clergyman, who had left her 
with a small family and the smallest income that 
was compatible with that family's maintenance. 
Hence the migration to Ireland, where she had 
been born, and where she hoped to^ live econo- 
mically. 

The tumble-down cottage was near the sea, not 
far from a little bay named Howlin Cove. Though 
little it was a tremendous bay, with mighty cliffs 
landward, and jutting ledges on either side, ana 
forbidding rocks at the entrance, which waged con- 
tinual warfare with the great Atlantic billows that 
rolled into it. The whole place suggested ship- 
wreck and smugglers. 



2 POST HASTE : 

The small family of Mrs. Maylands consisted of 
three babes — so their mother styled them. The 
eldest babe, Mary — better known as May — war 
seventeen years of age, and dwelt in London, to 
which great city she had been tempted by an elder]; 
English cousin. Miss Sarah Lillycrop, who held ox 
as baits a possible situation and a hearty welcome. 

The second babe, Philip, was verging on fiftee: 
Having kicked, crashed, and smashed his wa 
through an uproarious infancy and a stormy child 
hood, he had become a sedate, earnest, energeti: 
boy, with a slight dash of humour in his spirit, anc. 
more than a dash of determination. 

The third babe was still a baby. As it plays 
little or no part in our tale we dismiss it with the 
remark that it was of the male sex, and was at once 
the hope, fear, joy and anxiety of its distracted 
mother. So, too, we may dismiss Miss Madge 
Stevens, a poor relation, who was worth her weight 
in gold to the widow, inasmuch as she acted the 
part of general servant, nurse, mender of the house- 
hold garments, and recipient of joys and sorrows, 
all of which duties she fulfilled for love, and for 
just shelter and sustenance sufficient to keep her 
affectionate spirit within her rather thin but well- 
favoured body. 

Phil Maylands was a hero- worshipper. At the 
time when our tale opens he worshipped a youth — 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 3 

the son of a retired naval officer, — who possessed at 
.3ast some of the qualities that are occasionally found 
1 a hero. George Aspel was daring, genial, enthu- 
tastic, tall, broad-shouldered, active, and young — 
')Ont twenty. But George had a tendency to dis- 
. jjlation. 

His father, who had recently died, had been 
ilicted to what he styled good-fellowship and 
j^. Knowing his so-called weakness. Captain 
4p\l had sent his boy to be brought up in the 
jmily of the Eev. James May lands, but some time 
fefore the death of that gentleman he had called 
Am. home to help to manage the small farm with 
which he amused his declining years. George and 
his father amused themselves with it to such an ex- 
tent that they became bankrupt about the time of 
the father's death, and thus the son was left with 
the world before him and nothing whatever in his 
pocket except a tobacco-pipe and a corkscrew. 

One day Phil met George Aspel taking a ramble 
and joined him. These two lived near to each 
other. Indeed, Mrs. Maylands had been partly 
influenced in her choice of a residence by her desire 
to be near George. 

It was a bitterly cold December afternoon. As 
the friends reached the summit of the grey cliffs, 
a squall, fresh from the Arctic regions, came sweep- 
ing over the angry sea, cutting the foam in flecks 



4 POST HASTE : 

from the waves, and whistling, as if in baffled fury, 
among the opposing crags. 

" Isn't it a grand sight?" said Phil, as they sought 
shelter under the lee of a projecting rock. 

" Glorious ! I never look upon that sight," said 
Aspel, with flashing eyes, " without wishing that I 
had lived in the days of the old Vikings." 

The youth traced his descent from the sea-kings 
of Norway — those tremendous fellows who v^ixq 
wont in days of yore to ravage the shores c^</ihe 
known and unknown world, east and west, north 
and south, leaving their indelible mark alike on 
the hot sands of Africa and the icebound rocks of 
Greenland. As Phil Maylands knew nothing of his 
own lineage further back than his grandfather, he was 
free to admire the immense antiquity of his friend's 
genealogical tree. Phil was not, however, so com- 
pletely under the fascination of his hero as to be 
utterly blind to his faults ; but he loved him, and 
that sufficed to cover them up. 

" Sure, they were a wild lot, after all ?" he said in 
a questioning tone, as he looked up at the glowing 
countenance of his friend, who, with his bold mien, 
bulky frame, blue eyes, and fair curls, would have 
made a very creditable Viking indeed, had he lived 
in the tenth century. 

" Of course they were, Phil," he replied, looking 
down at his admirer with a smile. " Men could not 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 5 

well be otherwise than wild and warlike in those 
days ; but it was not all ravage and plundei with 
them. Why, it is to them and to their wise laws 
that we owe much of the freedom, coupled with the 
order, that prevails in our happy land ; and didn't 
they cross the Atlantic Ocean in things little better 
than herring-boats, without chart or compass, and 
discover America long before Columbus was born ?" 

" You don't mean that ? " said Phil, with increased 
admiration ; for the boy was not only smitten by his 
friend's physical powers, but by his supposed in- 
tellectual attainments. 

" Yes, I do mean that," returned Aspel. " If the 
Norsemen of old did mischief, as no one can deny, 
they were undoubtedly grand old scoundrels, and it 
is certain that they did much good to the world, 
whether they meant it or not." 

Phil Maylands made no reply, but continued to 
look meditatively at his friend, until the latter 
laughed, and asked what he was thinking about. 

"It's thinking I am, what I wouldn't give if my 
legs were only as long as yours, George." 

" That they will soon be," returned George, " if 
they go on at the rate they've been growing of 
late." 

*' That's a true word, anyhow ; but as men's legs 
don't go on growing at the same rate for ever, it's 
not much hope I have of mine. N"o, George, it's 



6 POST HASTE : 

kind of you to encourage me, but the Maylands 
have ever been a short- legged and long- bodied race. 
So it's said. However, it's some comfort to know 
that short men are often long-headed^ and that 
many of them get on in the world pretty well." 

" Of course they do," returned Aspel, " and 
though they can't grow long, they never stop short 
in the race of life. Why, look at ]N"elson — he was 
short ; and Wellington wasn't long, and Bonny 
himself was small in every way except in his 
intellect — who's that coming up the hill?" 

"It's Mike Kenny, the postman, I think. I 
wonder if he has brought a letter from sister May. 
Mother expects one, I know." 

The man who had attracted their attention was 
ascending towards them with the slow, steady gait 
of a practised mountaineer. He was the post- 
runner of the district. Being a thinly-peopled and 
remote region, the "runner's walk" was a pret1}y 
extensive one, embracing many a mile of moorland, 
vale and mountain. He had completed most of his 
walk at that time, having only one mountain 
shoulder now between him and the little village of 
Howlin Cove, where his labours were to terminate 
for that day. 

" Good- evening, Mike," said George Aspel, as the 
man approached. " Any letters for me to-night ? " 

" No, sur, not wan," answered Mike, with some- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 7 

thing of a twinkle in his eye ; " but I've left wau at 
Eocky Cottage," he added, turning to Philip May- 
lands. 

"Was it May's handwriting?" asked the boy 
eagerly. * 

" Sure I don't know for sartin whose hand it is i* 
the inside, but it's not Miss May's on the cover. 
Niver a wan in these parts could write like her — 
copperplate, no less." 

" Come, George, let's go back," said Phil, quickly, 
" we've been looking out for a letter for some days 
past." 

" It's not exactly a letter, Master Phil," said tne 
post- runner slowly. 

" Ah, then, she'd never put us off with a news- 
paper," said Phil. 

" No, it's a telegram," returned Mike. 

Phil Maylands looked thoughtfully at the ground. 
'"A telegram," he said, "that's strange. Are ye 
sure, Mike ?" 

" Troth am I." 

Without another word the boy started off at a 
quick walk, followed by his friend and the post- 
runner. The latter had to diverge at that place to 
leave a letter at the house of a man named Patrick 
Grady, Hence, for a short distance, they followed 
the same road. 

Young Maylands would have passed the house, 



8 POST HASTE : 

but as Grady was an intimate friend of George 
Aspel, he agreed to stop just to shake hands. 

Patrick Grady was the soul of hospitality. He 
was not to be put off with a mere shake of the hand, 
not he — telegrams meant nothing now-a-days, he 
said, everybody sent them. No cause for alarm. 
They must stop and have a glass of mountain dew. 

Aspel was resolute, however ; he would not sit 
down, though he had no objection to the mountain 
dew. Accordingly, the bottle was produced, and a 
full glass was poured out for Aspel, who quaffed off 
the pure spirit with a free-and-easy toss and smack 
of the lips, that might have rendered one of the 
beery old sea-kings envious. 

" No, sur, I thank ye," said Mike, when a similar 
glass was offered to him. 

"What ! ye haven't taken the pledge, have ye?" 
said Grady. 

" No, sur ; but I've had three glasses already on 
me walk, an' that's as much as I can rightly carry." 

" Nonsense, Mike. You've a stiff climb before 
you — here, take it off." 

The facile postman did take it off without further 
remonstrance. 

"Have adhrop, Phil?' 

"No, thank ee," said Phil, firmly, but without 
giving a reason for declining. 

Being a boy, he was not pressed to drink, and th( 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 9 

party left the house. A short distance farther on 
the road forked, and here the post-rimner turned 
off to the right, taking the path which led towards 
the hill whose rugged shoulder he had yet to scale. 

Mike Kenny breasted it not only with the 
energy of youth and strength, but with the additional 
and artificial energy infused by the spirits, so that, 
much to his own surprise, his powers began to fail 
prematurely. Just then a storm of wind and sleet 
came down from the heights above, and broke with 
bitter fury in his face. He struggled against it 
vigorously for a time till he gained a point whence 
he saw the dark blue sea lashing on the cliffs 
below. He looked up at the pass which was almost 
hid by the driving sleet. A feeling of regret and 
self-condemnation at having so readily given in to 
Grady was mingled with a strong sense of the duty 
that he had to discharge as he once more breasted 
the steep. The bitter cold began to tell on his 
exhausted frame. In such circumstances a small 
matter causes a man to stumble. Kenny's foot 
caught on something — a root it might be — and he 
fell headlong into a ditch and was stunned. The 
cold did its work, and from that ditch he never 
rose again. 

Meanwhile Mr. Grady looked out from the 
window of his cottage upon the gathering storm, 
expressed some satisfaction that it did not fall to 



1 POST HASTE : 

his lot to climb liills on such a day, and comforted 
himself — though he did not appear to stand in 
need of special comfort — with another glass of 
whisky. 

George Aspel and Philip May lands, with their 
backs to the storm, hurried homewards ; the former 
exulting in the grand — though somewhat discon- 
nected — thoughts infused into his fiery soul by the 
fire-water he had imbibed, and dreaming of what 
he would have dared and done had he only been a 
sea-king of the olden time; the latter meditating 
somewhat anxiously on the probable nature of his 
sister's telegram, 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 1 1 



CHAPTER II. 

TELLS OF woman's WORK AND SOME OF WOMAn's WATS. 

Many, and varied, and strange, are the duties 
which woman has to perform in this life — especially 
in that wonderful and gigantic phase of this life 
which is comprehended in the word London. 

One chill December afternoon there sat in front 
of a strange-looking instrument a woman — at 
least she was as nearly a woman as is compatible 
with the age of seventeen. She was also pretty 
— not beautiful, observe, but pretty — sparklingly 
pretty; dark, dimpled, demure and delightful in 
every way ; with a turn-up nose, a laughing eye, 
and a kindly look. 

Her chief duty, from morning to night, consisted 
in playing with her pretty little fingers on three 
white pianoforte keys. There were no other keys 
— black or white — in connection with these three. 
They stood alone and had no music whatever in them 
— nothing but a click. Nevertheless this young 
woman, whose name was May Maylands, played 
on them with a constancy and a deft rapidity 



12 POSTHASTE: 

worthy of a great, if not a musical, cause. From 
dawn to dusk, and day by day, did she keep 
those three keys clicking and clittering, as if 
her life depended on the result; and so in truth 
it did, to some extent, for her bread and butter 
depended on her performances on that very meagre 
piano. 

Although an artless and innocent young girl, 
fresh from the western shores of Erin, May had a 
peculiar, and, in one of her age and sex, almost pert 
way of putting questions, to which she often 
received quaint and curious replies. 

For instance one afternoon she addressed to a 
learned doctor the following query : — 

" Can you send copy last prescription ? Lost it. 
Face red as a carrot. In agonies ! What shall I 
do? Help!" 

To which the learned doctor gave the matter-of- 
fact but inelegant reply : — 

"Stick your feet in hot water. Go to bed at 
once. Prescription sent by post. Take it every 
hour." 

But May Maylands did not stick her feet in 
hot water ; neither did she go to bed, or take any 
physic. Indeed there was no occasion to do so, for 
a clear complexion and pink cheeks told of robust 
health. 

On another occasion she asked an Irish farmer if 



A TALE OF HFR MAJESTY'S MAILS. 1 3 

he could send her twenty casks of finest butter to 
cost not more than 6d. per lb. 

To which the farmer was rude enough to answer 
— " Not by no manner of means." 

In short May's conduct was such that we must 
hasten to free her from premature condemnation by 
explaining that she was a female telegraphist in 
what we may call the literary lungs of London — 
the General Post-Office at St. Martin's-le- Grand. 

On that chill December afternoon, during a brief 
lull in her portion of the telegraphic communication 
of the kingdom, May leaned her little head on her 
hand, and sent her mind to the little cottage by the 
sea, already described as lying on the west coast 
of Ireland, with greater speed than ever she flashed 
those electric sparks which it was her business to 
scatter broadcast over the land. The hamlet, near 
which the cottage stood, nestled under the shelter 
of a cliff as if in expectation and dread of being 
riven from its foundations by the howling winds, or 
whelmed in the surging waves. The cottage itself 
was on the outskirts of the hamlet, farther to the 
south. The mind of May entered through its closed 
door, — for mind, like electricity, laughs at bolts and 
bars. 

There was a buzz of subdued sound from more 
than twelve hundred telegraphists, male and female, 
in that mighty telegraph- hall of St. Martin's- 



14 POST HASTE : 

le-Grand, but May heard it not. Dozens upon 
dozens of tables, each with its busy occupants — 
tables to right of her, tables to left of her, tables in 
rear of her, tables in front of her, — swept away from 
her in bewildering perspective, but May saw them 
not. The clicking of six or seven hundred instru- 
ments broke upon her ear as they flashed the news 
of the world over the length and breadth of the 
land, pulsating joy and sorrow, surprise, fear, hope, 
despair, and gladness to thousands of anxious hearts, 
but May regarded it not. She heard only the boom- 
ing of the great sea, and saw her mother seated by 
the fire darning socks, with Madge engaged in 
household work, and Phil tumbling with baby- 
brother on the floor, making new holes and rents 
for fresh darns and patches. 

Mrs. Maylands was a student and lover of the 
Bible. Her children, though a good deal wilder, 
were sweet-tempered like herself. It is needless 
to add that in spite of adverse circumstances they 
were all moderately happy. The fair telegraphist 
smiled, almost laughed, as her mind hovered over 
the home circle. 

From the contemplation of this pleasant and 
romantic picture she was roused by a familiar rustle 
at her elbow. Eecalling her mind from the west of 
Ireland, she fixed it on a mass of telegrams which 
had just arrived from various parts of the city. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 15 

They had been sucked through several pneuma- 
tic tubes — varying from a few yards to two miles 
in length — had been checked, assorted, registered, 
and distributed by boys to the various telegraphists 
to whose lot they fell. May Maylands chanced, by 
a strange coincidence, to command the instrument 
in direct connection with Cork. The telegrams just 
laid beside her were those destined for that city, 
and the regions to which it was a centre of redis- 
tribution. Among others her own village was in 
connection with it, and many a time had she 
yearned to touch her keys with a message of love 
to her mother, but the rules of the office sternly 
forbade this. The communicative touch which she 
dispensed so freely to others was forbidden to her- 
self. If she, or any other telegraphist in St. Mar- 
tin's-le-Grand, wished to send a private message, it 
became necessary to step out of the office, go to the 
appointed place, pay her shilling, and become one 
of the public for the occasion. Every one can see 
the necessity for such a rule in the circumstances. 

May's three-keyed machine, by the way, did not 
actually send forth the electricity. It only punched 
holes in a long tape of white paper, which holes, 
according to their relative arrangement, represented 
the alphabet. Having punched a message by play- 
ing on the keys, she transferred her tape to the 
electric machine at her elbow and passed it through. 



16 POSTHASTE: 

This transmitting machine was automatic or self- 
acting. It required only to be fed with perforated 
tapes. In Ireland the receiving-machine presented 
its messages in the form of dots and dashes, which, 
according to arrangement, became alphabetic. You 
don't understand this, reader, eh ? It would be 
surprising if you did ! A treatise on electric tele- 
graphy would be required to make it clear — sup- 
posing you to have a mechanical turn of mind. 
Suffice it to say that the Wheatstone telegraph 
instrument tapes off its messages at the rate of 100 
words a minute. 

But to return — 

With a sigh May Maylands cast her eyes on the 
uppermost telegram. It ran thus : — 

" Buy the horse at any price. He's a spanker. 
Let the pigs go for what they'll fetch." 

This was enough. Eomance, domesticity, and 
home disappeared, probably with the message along 
the wire, and the spirit of business descended on 
the little woman as she applied herself once more 
to the matter-of-fact manipulation of the keys. 

That evening as May left the post-office and 
turned sharply into the dark street she came into 
collision with a letter-carrier. 

" Oh ! Miss," he exclaimed with polite anxiety, 
" I beg your pardon. The sleet drivin' in my face 
prevented my seeing you. You're not hurt I hope." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 17 

" No, Mr. riiut, you haven't hurt me," said May, 
laughing, as she recognised the voice of her own 
landlord. 

"Why, it's you, Miss May ! Now isn't that good 
luck, my turnin' up just in the nick o' time to see 
you home? Here, catch hold of my arm. The 
wind 's fit to tear the lamp-posts up by the roots." 

"But this is not the way home," objected the 
girl. 

" That's true, Miss May, it ain't, but I 'm only 
goin' round a bit by St. Paul's Churchyard. There's 
a shop there where they sell the sausages my old 
'ooman's so fond of. It don't add more than a few 
yards to the road home." 

The old 'ooman to whom Solomon Flint referred 
was his grandmother. Flint himself had spent the 
greater part of his life in the service of the post- 
office, and was now a widower, well stricken in 
yearA His grandmother was one of those almost 
indestructible specimens of humanity who live on 
until the visage becomes deeply corrugated, con- 
temporaries have become extinct, and age has 
become a matter of uncertainty. Flint had always 
h&eh ^ good grandson, but when his wife died the 
love he had borne to her seemed to have been trans- 
ferred with additional vehemence to the "old 'ooman." 

" There's a present for you, old 'ooman," said 
Flint, placing the paper of sausages on the table on 

13 



18 POST HASTE : 

entering his humble abode, and proceeding to divest 
himself of his waterproof cape ; "just let me catch 
hold of a fryin'-pan and I'll give you to understand 
what a blow-out means." 

''You're a good laddie, Sol," said the old woman, 
rousing herself and speaking in a voice that sounded 
as if it had begun its career far back in the previous 
century 

Mrs. Flint was Scotch, and, although she had 
lived from early womanhood in London, had re- 
tained something of the tone and much of the pro- 
nunciation of the land o' cakes. 

" Ye'll be wat, lassie," she said to May, who was 
putting off her bonnet and shawl in a corner. " No, 
Grannie," returned the girl, using a term which the 
old woman had begged her to adopt, " I 'm not wet, 
only a little damp." 

" Change your feet, lassie, direc'ly, or you '11 tak* 
cauld," said Mrs. Elint in a peremptory tone. 

May laughed gently and retired to her private 
boudoir to change her shoes. The boudoir was 
not more than eight feet by ten in size, and very 
poorly furnished, but its neat, methodical arrange- 
ments betokened in its owner a refined and orderly 
mind. There were a few books in a stand on the 
table, and a flower-pot on the window-sill. Among 
the pegs and garments on the walls was a square 
piece of cardboard, on which was emblazoned in 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 19 

scarlet silk, the text, " God is love." This hung at 
the foot of the bed, so as to be the first object to 
greet the girl's eyes on awaking each morning. 
Below it hung a row of photographs, embracing the 
late Rev. James May lands, his widow, his son Philip, 
his distant relative Madge, and the baby. These 
were so arranged as to catch the faint gleam of 
light that penetrated the window; but as there 
was a twenty-foot brick wall in front of the win- 
dow at a distance of two yards, the gleam, even 
on a summer noon, was not intense. In winter 
it w^as barely sufficient to render darkness visible. 

Poor May Maylands ! It was a tremendous change 
to her from the free air and green fields of Ireland 
to a small back street in the heart of London ; but 
necessity had required the change. Her mother's 
income could not comfortably support the family. 
Her own salary, besides supporting herself, was de- 
voted to the enlargement of that income, and as it 
amounted to only £50 a year, there was not much 
left to pay for lodgings, etc. It is true Miss Lilly- 
crop would have gladly furnished May with board 
and lodging free, but her house was in the neigh- 
bourhood of Pimlico, and May's duties made it 
necessary that she should live within a short dis- 
tance of the General Post- Office. Miss Lilly crop 
had heard of the Flints as being good-hearted and 
trusty people, and advised her cousin to board with 



20 POST HASTE : 

them, at least until some better arrangement corld 
be made for her. Meanwhile May was to go and 
spend part of every Sunday with Miss Lillycrop at 
No. 9 Purr Street. 

" Well, Grannie," said May, returning to the front 
room, where the sausages were already hissing deli- 
ciously, " what news have you for me to-night?" 

She sat down beside the old woman, took her 
hand and spoke in that cheery, cosy, confidential 
way which renders some women so attractive. 

" Deed, May, there's little but the auld story — 
" Mercies, mornin', noon, and night. But, oo ay, I 
was maist forgettin' ; Miss Lillycrap was here, an' 
left ye a message o' some sort." 

"And what was the message, Grannie?" 

"She's gone and forgot it," said Solomon Flint, 
putting the sausages on the table, which had 
already been spread for supper by a stout little girl 
who was the sole domestic of the house and attend- 
ant on Mrs. Flint. " You 've no chance of getting 
it now. Miss May, for I 've noticed that when the 
old 'ooman once forgets a thing it don't come back 
to her — except, p'r'aps, a week or two afterwards. 
Come now, draw in and go to work. But, p'r aps. 
Dollops may have heard the message. Hallo ! 
Dollops ! come here, and bring the kettle with you." 

Dollops — the little girl above referred to — was 
particularly small and shy, ineffably stupid, and 



A. TALE OF ITER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 21 

remarkably fat. It was the last quality which in- 
duced Solomon to call her Dollops. Her hair and 
garments stuck out from her in wild dishevelment, 
but she was not dirty. Nothing belonging to Mrs. 
Flint was allowed to become dirty. 

" Did you see Miss Lillycrop, Dollops ? " asked 
Solomon, as the child emerged from some sort of 
back kitchen. 

'' Yes, sir, I did ; I saw*d 'er a-goin' hout." 

" Did you hear her leave a message ? " 

" Yes, sir, I did. I 'eard 'er say to missis, ' Be 
sure that you give May Maylands my love, an* 
tell 'er wotever she do to keep 'er feet dry, an* 
don't forgit the message, an* say I'm so glad about 
it, though it's not much to speak of arter all ! ' " 

"Whatwas she so glad about?" demanded Solomon. 

" I dun know, sir. She said no more in my 
'earin than that. I only comed in w'en she was 
agoin' hout. P'r'aps it was about the findin' of *er 
gloves in 'er pocket w'en she was a talkin' to 
missis, which she thought she'd lost, though they 
wasn't wuth pickin' up out of the " 

" Pooh ! be off to your pots an' pans, child," 
said Flint, turning to his grandmother, who sat 
staring at the sausages with a blank expression. 
" You can't remember it, I s'pose, eh ? '* 

Mrs. Flint shook her head and began to eat. 

"That's right, old 'ooman," said her grandson, 

JUVENILE. 



22 POST HASTE : 

patting her shoulder ; " heap up the coals, mayhap 
it 11 revive the memory." 

But Mrs. Flint's memory was not so easily re- 
vived. She became more abstracted than usual 
in her efforts to recover it. Supper passed and was 
cleared away. The old woman was placed in her 
easy-chair in front of the fire with the cat — her 
chief evening amusement — on her knee ; the letter- 
carrier went out for his evening walk ; Dollops 
proceeded miscellaneously to clean up and smash 
the crockery, and May sat down to indite an epistle 
io the inmates of Eocky Cottage. 

Suddenly Mrs. Flint uttered an exclamation. 

" May ! " she cried, and hit the cat an involuntary 
slap on the face which sent it with a caterwaul of 
indignant surprise from her knee, "it wasn't a 
message, it was a letter ! " 

Having thus unburdened her mind the old woman 
relapsed into the previous century, from which she 
could not be recalled. May, therefore, made a dili- 
gent search for the letter, and found it at last under 
a cracked teapot on the mantelpiece, where Mrs. 
Flint had told Miss Lillycrop to place it for safety. 

It was short but satisfactory, and ran thus ; — 

"Dearest May, — IVe been to see my friend in 
power,' and he says it's 'all right,' that you've only 
to get your brother over as soon as possible, and 
he'll see to getting him a situation. The enclosed 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 23 

paper is for his and your guidance. Excuse haste. 
— Your affect, coz., Sarah Lillycrop." 

It need hardly be said that May Maylands 
finished her letter with increased satisfaction, and 
posted it that night. 

Next morning she wrote out a telegram as 
follows : — " Let Phil come here at once. The appli- 
cation has been successful. Never mind clothes. 
Everything arranged. Best love to all.'' 

The last clause was added in order to get the full 
value for her money. She naturally underscored 
the words "at once/ forgetting for the moment 
that, in telegraphy, a word underlined counts as two 
words. She was therefore compelled to forego the 
emphasis. 

This message she did not transmit through her 
own professional instrument, but gave it in at the 
nearest district office. It was at once shot bodily, 
with a bundle of other telegrams, through a pneu- 
matic tube, and thus reached St. Martin's-le-Grand 
in one minute thirty-five seconds, or about twenty 
minutes before herself. Chancing to be the upper- 
most message, it was flashed off without delay, 
crossed the Irish Channel, and entered the office at 
Cork in about six minutes. Here there was a short 
delay of half-an-hour, owing to other telegrams 
which had prior claim to attention. Then it was 
flashed to the west coast, which it reached long 



24 POST HASTE : 

before the letter posted on the previous night, and 
not long after May had seated herself at her own 
three-keyed instrument. But there, telegraphic 
speed was thwarted by unavoidable circumstances, 
the post-runner having already started on his morn- 
ing rounds, and it was afternoon before the telegram 
was delivered at Eocky Cottage. 

This was the telegram which had caused Philip 
Maylands so much anxiety. He read it at last with 
great relief, and at the same time with some degree 
of sadness, when he thought of leaving his mother 
" unprotected " in her lonely cottage by the sea. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 25 



CHAPTER III. 



BRILLIANT PROSPECTS. 



Madge — whose proper name was Marjory Stevens 
— was absent when May's letter arrived the follow- 
ing day. On her return to the cottage she was 
taken into the committee which sat upon the sub- 
ject of Phil's appointment. 

"It's not a very grand appointment/' said Mrs. 
Maylands, with a sigh. 

" Sure it's not an appointment at all yet, mother," 
returned Phil, who held in his hand the paper of 
instructions enclosed in May's letter. "Beggars, 
you know, mustn't be choosers ; an' if I'm not a 
beggar, it's next thing to it I am. Besides, if the 
position of a boy- telegraph-messenger isn't very 
exalted in itself, it's -the first step to better things. 
Isn't the first round of a ladder connected with the 
top round ? " 

" That's true, Phil," said Madge ; " there's nothing 
to prevent your becoming Postmaster- General in 
course of time." 



26 POST HASTE : 

"Nothing whatever, that I know of," returned 
Phil. 

" Perhaps somebody else knows of something that 
may prevent it," said his mother with an amused 
smile. 

" Perhaps ! " exclaimed the boy, with a twinkle 
in his eye ; " don't talk to me of perhapses, I'm not 
to be damped by such things. Now, just consider 
this," he continued, looking over the paper in his 
hand, " here we have it all in print. I must apply 
for the situation in writin' no less. Well, I can do 
it in copperplate, if they please. Then my age must 
be not less than fourteen, and not more than fifteen." 

" That suits to a T," said Madge. 
"Yes; and, but hallo! what have we here?" 
said Phil, with a look of dismay. 

"What is it?" asked his mother and Madge in 
the same breath, with looks of real anxiety. 

"Well, well, it's too bad," said Phil slowly, "it 
says here that I'm to have ' no claim on the super- 
annuation fund.' Isn't that hard ?" 

A smile from Mrs. Maylands, and a laugh from 
Madge, greeted this. It was also received with an 
appalling yell from the baby, which caused mother 
and nurse to leap to the rescue. That sprout of 
mischief, in the course of an experimental tour of 
the premises, had climbed upon a side-table, had 
twisted his right foot into the loop of the window- 



A TALE OF ITER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 27 

curtains, had fallen back, and hung, head down- 
wards, howling. 

Having been comforted with bread and treacle, 
and put to bed, the committee meeting was resumed. 

''Well, then," said Phil, consulting his paper 
again, "I give up the superannuation advantages. 
Then, as to wages, seven shillings a week, rising to 
eight shillings after one year's service. Why, it's a 
fortune ! Any man at my age can live on sixpence 
a day easy — that's three-and-six, leaving three-and- 
six a week clear for you, mother. Then there's a 
uniform ; just think o' that !" 

" I wonder what sort of uniform it is," said 
Madge. 

'' A red coat, Madge, and blue trousers with silver 
lace and a brass helmet, for certain — " 

" Don't talk nonsense, boy," interrupted Mrs. 
jVIaylands, " but go on with the paper." 

" Oh ! there's nothing more worth mentioning," 
said Phil, folding the paper, " except that boy- 
messengers, if they behave themselves, have a 
chance of promotion to boy-sorterships, indoor- 
telegraph- messengerships, junior sorterships, and 
letter-carrierships, on their reaching the age of seven- 
teen, and, I suppose, secretaryships, and postmaster- 
generalships, with a baronetcy, on their attaining the 
age of Methuselah. It's the very thing for me, 
mother, so I'll be off to-morrow if — " 



28 POST HASTE : 

Phil was cut short by the bursting open of the 
door and the sudden entrance of his friend George 
Aspel. 

" Come, Phil," he cried, blazing with excitement, 
"there's a wreck in the bay. Quick! there's no 
time to lose." 

The boy leaped up at once, and dashed out after 
his friend. 

It was evening. The gale, which had blown for 
two days, was only beginning to abate. Dark clouds 
were split in the western sky by gleams of fiery 
light as the sun declined towards its troubled ocean- 
bed. 

Hurrying over the fields, and bending low to the 
furious blast, Aspel and Philip made their way to 
the neighbouring cliffs. But before we follow them, 
reader, to the wave-lashed shore, it is necessary, 
for the satisfactory elucidation of our tale, that we 
should go backward a short way in time, and bound 
forward a long way into space. 



A TALE OF HEK MAJESTY'S MAILS. 29 



CHAPTEK IV. 

THE ROYAL MAIL STEAMER. 

Out, far out on the mighty sea, a large vessel 
makes her way gallant]y over the billows — home- 
ward bound. 

She is a Eoyal Mail steamer from the southern 
hemisphere — the Trident — and a right royal vessel 
she looks with her towering iron hull, and her 
taper masts, and her two thick funnels, and her trim 
rigging, and her clean decks — for she has an awning 
spread over them, to guard from smoke as well as 
from sun. 

There is a large family on board of the Trident, 
and, like all other large families, its members display 
marked diversities of character. They also exhibit, 
like not a few large families, remarkable diversities 
of temper. Among them there are several human 
magnets with positive and negative poles, which 
naturally draw together. There are also human 
flints and steels which cannot come into contact 
without striking fire. . 

When the Trident got up steam, and bade adieu to 



30 POST HASTE : 

the Southern Cross, there was no evidence whatever 
of the varied explosives and combustibles which 
she carried in her after-cabin. The fifty or sixty 
passengers who waved kerchiefs, wiped their eyes, 
and blew their noses, at friends on the receding 
shore, were unknown to each other ; they were 
intent on their own affairs. When obliged to jostle 
each other they were all politeness and urbanity. 

After the land had sunk on the horizon the intro- 
^circumvolutions of a large family, or rather a little 
world, began. There was a birth on board, an en- 
gagement, ay, and a death ; yet neither the interest 
of the first, nor the romance of the second, nor the 
solemnity of the last, could check for more than a 
few hours the steady development of the family 
characteristics of love, modesty, hate, frivolity, wis- 
dom, and silliness. 

A proportion of the passengers were, of course, 
nobodies, who aspired to nothing greater than to live 
and let live, and who went on the even tenor of 
their way, without much change, from first to last. 
Some of them were somebodies who, after a short 
time, began to expect the recognition of that fact. 
There were ambitious-bodies who, in some cases, 
aimed too high, and there were unpretending-bodies 
who frequently aimed too low. There were also 
selfish-bodies who, of course, thought only of them- 
selves — with, perhaps, a slight passing reference to 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 31 

those among the after- cabin passengers who could 
give them pleasure, and there were self-forgetting- 
bodies who turned their thoughts frequently on the 
ship, the crew, the sea, the solar system, the Maker 
of the universe. These also thought of their fellow- 
passengers in the fore-cabin, who of course had a 
little family or world of their own, with its similar 
joys, and sins, and sorrows, before the mast ; and 
there were uproarious-bodies who kept the little 
world lively — sometimes a little too lively. 

As the Eoyal Mail steamer rushed out to sea and 
was tossed on the ocean's breast, these human ele- 
ments began to mix and effervesce and amalgamate, 
or fizz, burst, and go off, like squibs and crackers. 

There was a Mrs. Pods with three little girls, and 
a Mrs. Tods with two little boys, whose first casual 
glance at each other was transmuted into a glare of 
undying and unreasoning hate. These ladies were 
exceptions to the rule of general urbanity before 
mentioned. Both had fiery faces, and each read the 
other through and through at a glance. There was 
a Miss Bluestocking who charmed some people, 
irritated others, frightened a few, and caused many 
to sneer. Her chief friend among the males was a 
young man named Mr. Weakeyes, who had a small 
opinion of himself and a very receptive mind. Miss 
Troolove, among the ladies, was her chief friend. 
The strange misnomers which one meets with in 



32 POST HASTE : 

society were also found in the little world in tha 
steamer — that Eoyal Mail steamer we should say— 
for, while we turn aside for a brief period to con 
descend upon these particulars, we would not hav< 
the reader forget that they have an indirect bearing 
on the main thread of our tale. 

One misnamed lady was a Miss Mist, who, insteac 
of being light, airy, and ethereal, as she ought tc 
have been, weighed at least twelve stone six. But 
she sang divinely, was a great favourite with the 
young people on board, and would have been very 
much missed indeed if she had not been there. 
There was also a Mr. Stout, who was the tallest and 
thinnest man in the ship. 

On the other hand there were some whose names 
had been obviously the result of a sense of propriety 
in some one. Among the men who were rabidly 
set on distinguishing themselves in one way or 
another was a Major Beak. Now, why was it that 
this Major's nose was an aquiline of the most out- 
rageous dimensions ? Surely no one would argue 
that the nose grew to accommodate the name. Is 
it not more probable — nay, certain — that the name 
grew to accommodate the nose ? Of course when 
Major Beak was born he was a minor, and his nose 
must have been no better than a badly-shaped 
button or piece of putty; but the Major's father 
had owned a tremendous aquiline nose, which at 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 33 

birth had also been a button, and so on we can 
proceed backwards until we drive the Beaks into 
that remote antiquity where historical fact begins 
and mythological theory terminates — that period 
when men were wont, it is supposed, to name each 
other intelligently with reference to personal char- 
acteristic or occupation. 

So, too, Mr. Bright — a hearty good-natured fel- 
low, who drew powerfully to Major Beak and hated 
Miss Bluestocking — possessed the vigorous frame, 
animated air, and intelligent look which must have 
originated his name. But why go on? Every 
reader must be well acquainted with the characters 
of Mr. Fiery and Mr. Stiff, and Mrs. Dashington, 
and her niece Miss Squeaker, and Colonel Blare who 
played the cornet, and Lieutenant Limp who sang 
tenor, and Dr. Bassoon who roared bass, and Mrs. 
Silky, who was all things to all men, besides being 
everything by turns and nothing long ; and Lady 
Tower and Miss Gentle, and Mr. Blurt and Miss 
Dumbbelle. 

Suf&ce it to say that after a week or two the 
effervescing began to systematise, and the family 
became a living and complex electrical machine, 
whose sympathetic poles drew and stuck together, 
while the antagonistic poles kept up a steady dis- 
charge of sparks. 

Then there arose a gale which quieted the 
C 



34 POST HASTE : 

machine a little, and checked the sparkling flow 
of wit and humour. When, during the course of 
the gale, a toppling billow overbalanced itself and 
fell inboard with a crash that nearly split the deck 
open, sweeping two of the quarterboats away, Mr. 
Blurt, sitting in the saloon, was heard to exclaim : — 

" 'Pon my word, it 's a terrible gale — enough 
almost to make a fellow think of his sins." 

To which Mrs. Tods, who sat beside him, replied, 
with a serious shake of her head, that it was indeed 
a very solemn occasion, and cast a look, not of 
undying hate but of gentle appeal at Mrs. Pods, 
who sat opposite to her. And that lady, so far 
from resenting the look as an affront, met her in a 
liberal spirit; not only admitted that what Mrs. 
Tods had said was equally just and true, but even 
turned her eyes upward with a look of resignation. 

Well was it for Mrs. Pods that she did so, for 
her resigned eyes beheld the globe of the cabin 
lamp pitched off its perch by a violent lurch and 
coming straight at her. Thus she had time to bow to 
circumstances, and allow the missile to pass over her 
head into the bosom of Lady Tower, where it was 
broken to atoms. The effect of mutual concession 
was so strong on Mrs. Pods and Mrs. Tods, that the 
former secretly repented having wished that one of 
Mrs. Tods' little sons might fall down the hatchway 
and get maimed for life, Avhile the latter silently 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 35 

regretted having hoped that one of Mrs. Pods' little 
girls might fall overboard and be half- drowned. 

But the storm passed away and the effervescence 
returned — though not, it is pleasing to add, with so 
much pungency as before. Thus, night and day, the 
steamer sped on over the southern seas, across the 
mystic line, and into the northern hemisphere, with 
the written records, hopes, commands, and wishes 
of a continent in the mail-bags in her hold, and 
leaving a beautiful milky- way behind her. 

But there were more than letters and papers in 
these mail-bags. There were diamonds ! Not indeed 
those polished and glittering gems whose proper 
resting-place is the brow of beauty, but those uncut 
pebbles that are turned up at the mines, which the 
ignorant would fling away or give to their children 
as playthings, but for which merchants and experts 
would give hundreds and thousands of pounds. -A 
splendid prize that Eoyal Mail steamer would 
have been for the buccaneers of the olden time, but 
happily there are no buccaneers in these days — at 
least not in civilised w^aters. A famous pirate had, 
however, set his heart on those diamonds — even old 
Neptune himself. 

This is how it happened. 



36 POST HASTE : 



CHAPTEE V. 



WRECK AND RESCUE. 



One eveniug Miss Gentle and rotund little Mr. 
Blurt were seated on two camp-stools near the 
stern, conversing occasionally and gazing in a 
dreamy frame of mind at the milky- way over which 
they appeared to travel. 

" I wonder much, Miss Gentle/' said Mr. Blurt, 
" that you were not more afraid during that gale we 
had just before crossing the line ?" 

" I was a good deal afraid, though perhaps I did 
not show it. Your remark," she added, with an 
arch glance at her companion, "induces me to 
express some surprise that you seemed so much 
afraid." 

" Afraid !" echoed Mr. Blurt, with a smile ; " why, 
I wasn't afraid — eh ! was I ?" 

" I beg pardon," hastily explained Miss Gentle, 
" I don't mean frightened, of course ; perhaps I 
should have said alarmed, or agitated — " 

" Agitated ! " cried Mr. Blurt, pulling off his hat, 
and rubbing his bald head — he was prematurely 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 37 

bald, being only forty, though he looked like fifty 
— " agitated ! Well Miss Gentle, if you had 
diamonds — " 

He stopped short, and looked at his companion 
with a confused smile. 

" Diamonds, Mr. Blurt," said Miss Gentle, slightly 
surprised; "what do you mean?" 

"Well — ha! hem!" said the other, rubbing his 
forehead ; " I see no reason why I should make a 
mystery of it. Since I have mentioned the thing, 
I may as well say that a man who happens to have 
a packet of diamonds in the mail- bags worth about 
twenty thousand pounds, may well be excused 
showing some little agitation lest the ship contain- 
ing them should go to the bottom." 

" I don't^ quite see that," returned Miss Gentle. 
" If the owner is on board, and goes to the bottom 
with his diamonds, it does not matter to Mm, does 
it?" 

"Ah 1" said Mr. Blurt, "it is the inconsiderate- 
ness of youth which prompts that speech (Miss 
Gentle looked about twenty, though she was in 
reality twenty- seven !) Do you think I have no 
anxiety for any one but myself? Suppose I have 
a wife and family in England who are dependent 
on these diamonds." 

" Ah ! that did not occur to me," returned the 
lady. 



38 POST HASTE : 

"Have you any objection to become a con- 
fidante?" asked Mr. Blurt. 

" !N'one wliatever," replied Miss Gentle, laughing. 

" Well, then, to let you understand my feelings, 
I shall explain. I have a brother — a dear little 
fellow like mys — ah, excuse me; I did not mean 
dear like myself, but little. Well, he is a naturalist. 
He lives in London, and is not a very successful 
naturalist; indeed, I may say that he is an un- 
fortunate and poor naturalist. Last year he failed. 
I sent him a small sum of money. He failed again. 
I sent him more money. Being a successful 
diamond merchant, you see, I could afford to do so. 
We are both bachelors ; my brother being much 
older than I am. At last I resolved to send home 
my whole fortune, and return to live with him. 
after winding up my affairs. I did so : made up 
my diamonds into a parcel, and sent it by mail as 
being the most secure method. Just after doing 
this, I got a letter informing me of my brother being 
dangerously ill, and begging me to come to England 
without delay. I packed up at . once, left my 
partner to wind up the business, and so, here I am, 
on board the very steamer that carries my diamonds 
to England." 

"How curious — and how interesting," said the 
sympathetic Miss Gentle. 

Whatever more she intended to say was checked 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 39 

by a large parti- coloured ball hitting her on the 
cheek, .and falling into her lap. It was followed 
up and captured with a shriek by the two little 
Todses and the three little Podses. At the same 
moment the gong sounded for tea. Thus the con- 
versation came to a close. 

The voyage of the Trident — with the exception 
of the gale before referred to — was prosperous until 
her arrival in the waters of the northern hemisphere.* 
By that time the passengers had crystallised into 
groups, the nobodies and self-forgetting-bodies 
fraternisedy and became more and more friendly as 
time went on. The uproarious-bodies got up 
concerts and charades. The hatred of Pods for 
Tods intensified. The arrogance of Major Beak, 
and the good-natured modesty of Mr. Bright, 
increased. The noise of Dr. Bassoon made the 
manner of Mr. Silky quite agreeable by contrast, 
while the pride of Lady Tower and Mr. Stiff 
formed a fine, deep -shade to the neutral tint of 
iMiss Gentle, and the high-light of Miss Squeaker. 

Gradually, however, feelings began to modify. 
The squalls and breezes that ruffled the human 
breasts on board the Trident moderated in exact 
proportion as that vessel penetrated and experienced 
tlie storms of what should have been named the 
m-temperate zone. 

At last they drew near to the shores of Old 



40 POST HASTE : 

England, and then there burst upon them a nor'- 
wester, so violent that within the first hour the 
close-reefed topsails were blown to ribbons, and 
the foretopmast, with the jib-boom, was carried 
away. Of course this was a comparatively small 
matter in a steamer, but when it was afterwards 
discovered that the vessel had sprung a leak, things 
began to look more serious. 

" It's only a trifle, Miss Gentle ; don't alarm 
yourself. We can put that to rights in a few 
minutes," said Major Beak, with the confident air 
of a man whose nautical education had begun with 
Noah, and continued uninterruptedly down to the 
present time. 

" He's a hooked-nosed humbug. Miss Gentle, 
an knows nothing about it," growled the captain. 

" Water rising rapidly in the hold, sir," said the 
carpenter, coming aft and touching his cap. 

"' Eig the pumps," said the captain, and the pumps 
were rigged. What is more to the purpose, they 
were wrought with a will by the crew ; but in spite 
of their efforts the water continued to rise. 

It might have done a student of human nature 
good to have observed the effect of this information 
on the passengers Eegarded as a whole, the little 
world became perceptibly paler in the cheeks, and 
strikingly moderate in tone of voice and manner. 
Major Beak, in particular, began to talk low, and 



41 



made no reference whatever to nautical matters, 
while Mrs. Pods looked amiably — almost affec- 
tionately — at Mrs. Tods. 

Of course the passengers observed with breathless 
interest the action of the captain at this crisis. 
That important personage did his best to stop the 
leak, but only succeeded in checking it, and it 
required the constant exertions of the crew night 
and day at the pumps to reduce the water in the 
hold even by an inch. In these circumstances the 
young men among the passengers readily volun- 
teered their services to assist the crew. 

The gale continued and steadily increased. At 
night the ladies, and such of the passengers as were 
not employed at the pumps, retired to the cabin. 
Some of those who did not realise the danger of the 
situation went to bed. Others sat up in the saloon 
and consoled each other as best they might. 

Morning came, but with it came no abatement of 
the storm. Water and sky seemed mingled to- 
gether, and were of one uniform tone. It was 
obvious that the men at the pumps were utterly 
exhausted, and worst of all the water was beginninsr 
to gain slowly on them. The elderly men were now 
called on to help. It became necessary that all 
should work for their lives. Miss Bluestocking, 
who was muscular as well as masculine, rose to the 
occasion, and suggested that the ladies, so to speak. 



42 POST HASTE : 

should man the pumps. Her suggestion was not 
acted on. 

At this point Mr. Bright, who had been toiling 
night and day like an inexhaustible giant, suggested 
that music might be called in to aid their flagging 
powers. It was well known that fatigued soldiers 
on a march are greatly re -invigorated by the band. 
Major Beak, soaking from head to foot with salt, 
water, almost blind with fatigue and want of sleep, 
and with the perspiration dropping from the point 
of his enormous nose, plucked up heart to raise 
himself and assert that that was true. He further 
suggested that Colonel Blare might play to them 
on the cornet. But Colonel Blare was incap- 
able by that time of playing even on a penny 
trumpet. Dr. Bassoon was reduced so low as to 
be obliged to half whisper his incapacity to sing 
bass, and as for the great tenor, Lieutenant Limp — 
a piece of tape was stiffer than his back- bone. 

" Let the ladies sing to us," sighed Mr. Fiery, who 
was mere milk and water by that time. " I 'm sure 
that Mrs. Tods and Mrs. Pods would be — " 

A united shriek of protest from those ladies 
checked him. 

"Or Miss Troolove," suggested Mr. Blurt, on 
whose stout person the labour told severely. 

The lady appealed to, after a little hesitation, 
bef^an a hymn, but the time Avas found to be too 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 43 

slow, while the voice, although sweet and true, 
was too weak. 

" Come, let us have one of the Christy Minstrels'," 
cried Mr. Bright in a lively tone. "I'm certain 
Miss Mist can sing one." 

Poor Miss Mist was almost hysterical with fear 
and prolonged anxiety, but she was an obliging 
creature. On being assured that the other ladies 
would support her, she struck up the "Land of 
Dixey," and was joined in the chorus with so much 
spirit that those who laboured at the pumps felt 
like giants refreshed. Explain it how we may, 
there can be no question that lively music has a 
w^onderful power of sustaining the energies of man- 
kind. With the return of clieerful sensations there 
revived in some of them the sense of the ludicrous, 
and it was all that they could do to refrain from 
laughter as they looked at the forlorn females hud- 
dled together, wrapped in rugs and cloaks, drenched 
to the skin, almost blown from their seats, ghastly 
with watching and fear, solemn- visaged in the last 
degree, and yet singing " Pop goes the weasel," and 
similar ditties, with all the energy of despair. 

We paint no fanciful picture. We describe 
facts, and there is no saying how far the effect of 
that music might have helped in the saving of the 
ship, had not an event occurred which rendered 
further efforts unnecessary. 



44 POST HASTE : 

The captain, wht) had either lost his reckoning or 
his head, or both, was seen to apply himseK too 
frequently to a case-bottle in the cabin, and much 
anxiety began to be felt as to his capacity to 
manage the vessel. Owing, also, to the length of 
time that thick weather had prevailed, no reliable 
observation had been obtained for several days. 
While the anxiety was at its height, there came a 
sudden and terrible shock, which caused the good 
ship to tremble. Then, for the first time, the roar 
of breakers was heard above the howling of the 
storm. As if to increase the horror of the scene, 
the fog lifted and revealed towering cliffs close 
a-head of them. 

The transition from a comparatively hopeful 
state to one of absolute despair was overwhelming. 
The wild waves lifted the great hull of the vessel 
and let it down on the rocks with another crash, 
sending the masts over the side, while the passen- 
gers could only shriek in agony and cling to the 
wreck. Fortunately, in taking the ground, the 
vessel had kept straight, so that the forep'irt formed 
a comparative shelter from the waves that were fast 
breaking up the stern. 

In the midst of all this confusion the first mate 
and Mr. Bright seemed to keep quite cool. Between 
them they loaded and fired the bow signal-guns 
several times, by which means they brought a few 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 45 

fishermen and coastguard-men to the scene of dis- 
aster. And among these, as we have seen, were our 
heroes, Philip Maylands and George Aspel. 

On arriving, these two found that the rocket 
apparatus was being set up on the beach. 

" Phil," said Aspel in a quick low voice, " they '11 
want the lifeboat, and the wind carries the sound of 
their guns in the wrong direction. Eun round, lad, 
and give the alarm. There's not a moment to 
lose." 

The boy turned to run witliout a word of reply, 
but he could not help observing, as he turned, the 
compressed lips, the expanding nostrils, and the 
blazing eyes of his friend, who almost quivered with 
suppressed excitement. 

For some time George Aspel stood beside the 
men of tiie coastguard while they set up their 
apparatus and fired the rocket. To offer assistance, 
he knew, would only retard them. The first rocket 
was carried to the right of the vessel, which was now 
clearly visible. The second went to the other side. 
There was a reef of rocks on that side which lay a 
few yards farther out from the beach than the wreck. 
Over this leef the rocket-line fell and got entangled. 
Part of the shore-end of the apparatus also broke 
down. While the men were quickly repairing it 
Aspel said in a hurried manner : — " I'll clear the 
rocket-line," and away he darted like a greyhound. 



46 POST HASTE : 

"Hold ha-a-rd! foolish fellow, you'll be drownded," 
roared one of the men. 

But Aspel heeded him not. Another minute and 
he was far away on the ledge of rock jutting out 
from a high cape — the point of which formed the 
outlying reef above referred to. He was soon at the 
extremity of the ledge beyond which nearly a hun- 
dred yards of seething foam heaved between him 
and the reef. In he plunged without a moment's 
halt. Going with the rush of the waves through 
the channel he struck diagonally across, and landed 
on the reef. Every billow swept over it, but not 
with sufficient force to prevent his struggling 
towards the rocket-line, which he eventually reached 
and cleared. 

" Wasn't that nately done ! " cried an enthusiastic 
young fisherman on the beach ; " but, och ! what is 
he up to now ?" 

A few seconds sufficed to give an answer to his 
question. Instead of letting go the line and return- 
ing, young Aspel tied it round his waist, and ran or 
waded to the extreme edge of the reef which was 
nearest to the wreck The vessel lay partially to 
leeward of him now, with not much space between, 
but that space was a very whirlpool of tormented 
waves. Aspel gave no moment to thought. In his 
then state of mind he would have jumped down the 
throat of a cannon. Next instant he was battling 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 47 

with the billows, and soon reached the ship ; but now 
his danger was greatest, for the curling waves threw 
him so violently against the side of the wreck that 
he almost lost consciousness and missed the life- 
buoy which, with a rope attached, had been thrown 
to him by the anxious crew. 

A great cry of anxiety arose at this, but Mr. 
Bright had anticipated it, and the lirst mate was 
ready to aid him. Leaping into the sea with a 
rope round his waist, Mr. Bright caught Aspel as he 
struggled past. The mate's powerful hands held 
them both fast. Some of the crew lent a ready 
hand, and in a few seconds George Aspel w^as hauled 
on board. He had quite recovered, by that time, 
and replied with a smile to the ringing cheer that 
greeted him. The cheer was echoed again and again 
by the men on shore. Major Beak attempted to 
grasp his hand, but failed. Mr. Blurt, feeling an irre- 
sistible impulse, tried to embrace him, but was 
thrust aside, fell, and rolled into the lee-scuppers. 

Scattering the people aside Aspel sprang on the 
bulwarks at the bow, and, snatching Mr. Stiff's 
travelling-cap from his head, held it up as a signal 
to the men on shore. 

Well did the youth know what to do in the cir- 
cumstances, for many a time had he talked it over 
with the men of the coastguard in former days. On 
receiving an answering signal from the shore he 



48 POST HASTE : 

began to haul on the rocket-line? The men in 
charge had fastened to it a block, or pulley, with 
two tails to it ; a line was rove through this block. 
The instant the block reached his hands Aspel 
sprang with it to the stump of the foremast, and 
looking round cried, " Who '11 lend a—" 

" Here you are," said Mr. Bright, embracing the 
mast with both arms and stooping, — for Mr. Bright 
also knew well what to do. 

George Aspel leaped on his shoulders and stood 
up. Mr. Bright then raised himself steadily, and 
thus the former was enabled to tie the block by 
its two tails to the mast at a height of about 
eleven feet. The line rove through the block was 
the " whip," which was to be manipulated by those 
on shore. It was a double, and, of course, an 
endless line. 

Again the signal was given as before, and the 
line began to run. Very soon a stout hawser or 
cable was seen coming out to the wreck. Aspel 
fastened the end of this to tlie mast several feet 
below the pulley. 

A third time the signal was given. 

" " Now then, ladies, stand by to go ashore, and 
let's have no hesitation. It's life or death with 
us all," said the mate in a voice so stern that the 
crowd of anxious and somewhat surprised females 
prepared to obey. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 49 

I'fesently a ring-shaped life-buoy, with some- 
thing like a pair of short breeches dangling from 
it, carne o\it from the shore, suspended to a block 
which traversed on the cable, and was hauled out 
by means of the whip. 

. A seaman was ordered to get into it. Mrs. 
Tods, who stood beside the mate, eyeing the process 
somewhat curiously, felt herself firmly but gently 
seized. 

'' Come, Mrs. Tods, step into it. He 11 take care 
of you — no fear." 

"Never ! never ! without my two darlings," 
shrieked Mrs. Tods. 

But Mrs, Tods was tenderly lifted over the side 
and placed in the powerful arms of the sailor. 
Her sons instantly set up a howl and rushed towards 
her. But Mr. Bright had anticipated this also, 
and, with the aid of a seaman, arrested them. 
Meanwhile, the signal having been given, the men 
on the land pulled in the cradle, and Mrs. Tods 
went shrieking over the hissing billows to the 
shore. A few minutes more and out came the 
cradle again. 

" Now, then, for the two ' darlings,' " growled the 
mate. 

They were forcibly put over the side and sent 
howling to their mother. 

After them went INIrs. Pods, who, profiting by 



50 POST HASTE : 

the experience of her friend, made no resistance. 
This however, was more than counterbalanced by the 
struggles of her three treasures, who immediately 
followed. 

But the shades of evening were now falling, and 
it was with an anxious feeling at his heart that the 
mate surveyed the cluster of human beings who had 
yet to be saved, while each roaring wave that struck 
the wreck seemed about to break it up. 

Suddenly there arose a cry of joy, and, looking 
seaward, the bright white and blue form of the life- 
boat was seen coming in like an angel of light on the 
crests of the foaming seas. 

We may not stay to describe what followed in 
detail. The lifeboat's anchor was let go to windward 
of the wreck, and the cable paid out until the boat 
forged under the vessel's lee, where it heaved on the 
boiling foam so violently that it was difficult to 
prevent it being stove in, and still more difficult 
to get the women and children passed on board. 
Soon the lifeboat was full — as full as she could 
hold — and many passengers yet remained to be 
rescued. 

The officer in charge of the mail-bags had got 
them up under the shelter of the companion-hatch 
ready to be put into the boat, but human life was 
of more value than letters — ay, even than dia- 
monds. 



A TALE OF HER majesty's MAILS. 51 

" Now, then, one other lady. Only room for one," 
roared the mate, who stood with pistol in hand near 
the gangway. 

Miss Gentle tried to get to the front, but Lady 
Tower stepped in before her. 

" Never mind, little woman," said Mr. Bright, en- 
couragingly, " the rocket apparatus is still at work, 
and the wreck seems hard and fast on the reef. 
You'll get off next trip." 

" But I can't bear to think of going by that awful 
thing," said Miss Gentle, shuddering and sheltering 
herself from the blinding spray under the lee of 
Bright's large and powerful body. 

" Well, then," he returned, cheerfully, " the life- 
boat will soon return ; you'll go ashore with the 
mails." 

Mr. Bright was right about the speedy return of 
the lifeboat with her gallant crew, who seemed to 
rejoice in danger as if in the presence of a familiar 
friend, but he was wrong about the wreck being 
hard and fast. The rising tide shifted her a little, 
and drove her a few feet farther in. When the 
other women and children were got into the boat, 
Mr. Bright, who stood near the mail- bags looking 
anxiously at them, left his position for a moment to 
assist Miss Gentle to the gangway. She had just 
been safely lowered when a tremendous wave lifted 
the wreck and hurled it so far over the reef that the 



52 POST HASTE : 

fore part of the vessel was submerged in a pool of 
deep water lying between it and the shore. 

Mr. Bright looked back and saw the hatchway- 
disappearing. He made a desperate bound towards 
it, but was met by the rush of the crew, who now 
broke through the discipline that was no longer 
needed, and jumped confusedly into the life-boat on 
the sea, carrying Bright along with them. On re- 
covering his feet he saw the ship make a final 
plunge forward and sink to the bottom, so that 
nothing was left above water but part of the two 
funnels. The splendid lifeboat was partly drawn 
down, but not upset. She rose again like a cork, 
and in a few seconds freed herself from water 
through the discharging tubes in her bottom. The 
men struggling in the water were quickly rescued, 
and the boat, having finished her noble work, made 
for the shore amid cheers of triumph and joy. 

Among all the passengers in that lifeboat there 
was only one whose visage expressed nothing but 
unutterable woe. 

" Why, Mr. Bright," said Miss Gentle, who clung 
to one of the thwarts beside him, and was struck by 
his appearance, " you seem to have broken down all 
at once. What has happened ? " 

"The mail-bags !" groaned Mr. Bright. 

" Why do you take so deep an interest in the 
mails ? " asked Miss Gentle. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS 53 

" Because I happen to be connected with the 
post-office; and though 1 have no charge of them, 
I can't bear to see them lost/' said Mr. Bright with 
another groan, as he turned his eyes wistfully — not 
to the shore, at which all on board were eagerly 
gazing — but towards the wreck of the Eoyal Mail 
steamer Trident, the top of whose funnels rose black 
and defiant in the midst of the raging waves. 



54 1*0ST HASTE 



CHAPTEE VI. 

TREATS OF POVERTY, PRIDE, AND FIDELITY. 

Behind a very fashionable square in a very un- 
fashionable little street, in the west end of London, 
dwelt Miss Sarah Lillycrop. 

That lady's portion in this life was a scanty 
wardrobe, a small apartment, a remarkably limited 
income, and a tender, religious spirit. From this 
it will be seen that she was rich as well as poor. 

Her age was, by a curious coincidence, exactly 
proportioned to her income— the one being forty 
pounds, and the other forty years. She added to 
the former, with diJB&culty, by teaching, and to the 
latter, unavoidably, by living. 

By means of a well-known quality styled economy, 
she more than doubled her income, and by uniting 
prayer with practice and a gracious mien she did 
good, as it were, at the rate of five hundred, or five 
thousand, a year. 

It could not be said, however, that Miss Lillycrop 
lived well in the ordinary sense of that expression. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 55 

To those who knew her most intimately it seemed 
a species of standing miracle that she contrived to 
exist at all, for she fed chiefly on toast and tea. 
Her dietary resulted in an. attenuated frame and a 
thread-paper constitution. Occasionally she in- 
dulged in an egg, sometimes even in a sausage. 
But, morally speaking, Miss Lillycrop lived well, 
because she lived for others. Of course we do Jiot 
mean to imply that she had no regard for herself 
at all. On the contrary, she rejoiced in creature 
comforts when she had the chance, and laid in daily 
" one ha'p'orth of milk " all for herself. She paid 
for it, too, which is more than can be said of every 
one. She also indulged herself to some extent in 
the luxury of brown sugar at twopence -halfpenny 
a pound, and was absolutely extravagant in hot 
water, which she not only imbibed in the form of 
weak tea and eau sucrde hot, but actually took to bed 
with her every night in an india-rubber bottle. But 
with the exception of these excusable touches of 
selfishness, Miss Lillycrop ignored herself systema- 
tically, and devoted her time, talents, and means, ^ 
to the welfare of mankind. 

Beside a trim little tea-table set for three, she 

sat one evening with her hands folded on her lap, 

and her eyes fixed on the door as if she expected it 

md unprovoked assault on her. 

her expectations were almost 



56 POST HASTE : 

realised, for the door burst open and a boy burst 
into the room with — 

" Here we are, Cousin Lillycrop." 

"Phil, darling, at last!" exclaimed Cousin Lilly- 
crop, rising in haste. 

Philip Maylands offered both hands, but Cousin 
Lillycrop declined them, seized him round the neck, 
kissed him on both cheeks, and thrust him down 
into an easy chair. Then she retired into her own 
easy chair and gloated over him. 

" How much you Ve grown — and so handsome, 
dear boy," murmured the little lady. 

" Ah ! then, cousin, it 's the blarney stone you've 
been kissing since I saw you last '" 

" No, Phil, I've kissed nothinsj but the cat since 
I saw you last. I kiss that delicious creature every 
night on the forehead' before goiug to bed, but the 
undemonstrative thing does not seem to recipro- 
cate. However, I cannot help that." 

Miss Lillycrop was right, she could not help it. 
She w^as overflowing with the milk of human kind- 
ness, and, rather than let any of that valuable liquid 
go to waste, she poured some of it, not inappro- 
priately, on the thankless cat. 

" I 'm glad you arrived before your sister, Phil," 
said Miss Lillycrop. " Of course I asked her here 
to meet you. I am so sorry the dear girl cannot 
live with me : I had fully meant that she should, 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 57 

but my little rooms are so far from the Post- Office, 
^^•here her work is, you know, that it could not be 
managed. However, we see each other as often as 
possible, and she visits sometimes with me in my 
district. What has made you so late, Phil ?" 

" I expected to have been here sooner, cousin," 
replied Phil, as he took off his greatcoat, " but was 
delayed by my friend, George Aspel, who has come 
to London with me to liok after a situation that has 
been promised him by Sir James Clubley, M.P. for 
I forget where. He 's coming here to-night." 

" Who, Sir James Clubley V 

" No," returned the boy, laughing, " George Aspel. 
He went with Mr. Blurt to a hotel to see after a 
bed, and promised to come here to tea. I asked 
him, knowing that you'd be glad to receive any 
intima.te friend of mine. Won't you, Coz ?" 

Miss Lillycrop expressed and felt great delight 
at the prospect of meeting Phil's friend, but the 
smallest possible shade of anxiety was mingled with 
the feeling as she glanced at her very small and not 
too heavily-loaded table. 

" Besides," continued Phil, " George is such a 
splendid fellow, and, as maybe you remember, lived 
with us long ago. May will be glad to meet him ; 
and he saved Mr. Blurt's life, so you see — " 

« Saved Mr. Blurt's life !" interrupted Miss Lilly- 
cro]>. 



58 ?OST HASTr ! 

" Yes, and he saved ever so many more people at 
the same time, who would likely have been all lost 
if he hadn't swum off to 'em with the rocket line, 
and while he was doing that I ran off to call out the 
lifeboat, an' didn't they get her out and launch her 
with a will — for you see I had to run three miles, 
and though I went like the wind they couldn't call 
out the men and launch her in a minute, you know ; 
but there was no delay. We were in good time, 
and saved the whole of 'em — passengers and crew." 

" So, then, you had a hand in the saving of them," 
said Miss Lillycrop. 

" Sure I had," said Phil with a flush of pleasure 
at the remembrance of his share in the good work ; 
" but I 'd never have thought of the lifeboat, I was 
so excited with what was going on, if George hadn't 
sent me off. He was bursting with big thoughts, 
and as cool as a cucumber all the time. I do hope 
he'll get a good situation here. It's in a large 
East India house, I believe, with which Sir James 
Clubley is connected, and Sir James was an old 
friend of George's father, and was very kind to him 
in his last days, but they say he's a proud and 
touchy old fellow." 

As Phil spoke, the door, which had a tendency 
to burst that evening, opened quicklv. ^^l^'^" 
so violently as before, and \ 
before them, radiant with a glo 



A TALE OF HER MAJKSTY's MAILS. 59 

Phil sprang to meet her. After the first effu- 
sions were over, the brother and sister sat down to 
chat of home in the Irish far-west, while Miss 
Lillycrop retired to a small kitchen, there to hold 
solemn converse with the smallest domestic that 
ever handled broom or scrubbing-brush. 

" Now, Tottie, you must run round to the baker 
directly, and fetch another loaf." 

" What ! a whole one, ma'am V asked the small 
domestic — in comparison with whom Dollops was 
a giantess. 

" Yes, a whole one. You see there 's a young 
gentleman coming to tea whom I did not expect — 
a grand tall gentleman toe, and a hero, who has 
saved people from wrecks, and swims in the sea in 
storms like a duck, and all that sort of thing, so he's 
sure to have a tremendous appetite. You will also 
buy another pennyworth of brown sugar, and two 
more pats of butter." 

Tottie opened her large blue eyes in amazement 
at the extent of what she deemed a reckless order, 
but went off instantly to execute it, wondering that 
any hero, however regardless of the sea or storms, 
could induce her poor mistress to go in for such 
extravagance, after having already provided a luxu- 
rious meal for three. 

It might have seemed unfair to send such a child 
even to bed without an attendant. To send her 



60 POST HASTE : 

into the crowded streets alone m the dusk of even- 
ing, burdened with a vast commission, and weighted 
with coppers, appeared little short of inhumanity. 
Xevertheless Miss Lilly cro]3 did it with an air of 
perfect confidence, and the result proved that her 
trust was not misplaced. 

Tottie had been gone only a few seconds when 
George Aspel appeared at the door and was ad- 
mitted by Miss Lilly crop, w^ho apologised for the 
absence of her maid. 

Great was the surprise and not slight the embar- 
rassment of May Mayiands when young Aspel was 
ushered into the little room, for Phil had not 
recovered sufficiently from the first greetings to 
mention him. Perhaps greater was the surprise 
of Miss Lillycrop when these two, whom she had 
expected to meet as old playmates, shook hands 
rather stiffly. 

" Sure, I forgot, May, to tell you that George was 
coming — " 

" I am very glad to see him," interrupted May, 
recovering herself, "though I confess to some sur- 
prise that he should have forsaken Ireland so soon, 
after saying to me that it was a perfect paradise." 

Aspel, whose curly flaxen hair almost brushed 
the ceiling, brought himself down to a lower region 
by taking a chair, while he said with a meaning 
smile — 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 61 

'' All ! Miss Maylands, the circumstances are en- 
tirely altered now — besides/' he added with a sudden 
change of tone and manner, "that inexorable 
man-made demon, Business, calls me to London." 

" I hope Business intends to keep you here," said 
Miss Lillycrop, busying herself at the tea-table 

" That remains to be seen," returned Aspel. " If 
I find that—" 

" The loaf and butter, ma'am," said Tottie, an- 
nouncing these articles at the door as if they were 
visitors. 

" Hush, child ; leave them in the kitchen till I 
ask for them," said Miss Lilly crop with a quiet 
laugh. *'My little maid is such an original, Mr. 
Aspel." 

" She 's a very beautiful, though perhaps some- 
what dishevelled, original," returned Aspel, " of 
which one might be thankful to possess even an 
inferior copy." 

" Indeed you are riglit," rejoined Miss Lillycrop 
with enthusiasm y " she 's a perfect little angel — 
come, draw in your chairs ; closer this way, Phil, 
so— a perfect little «ngel— you take sugar I think? 
Yes. Well, as I was saying, the strange thing 
about her was that she was born and bred — thus far 
— in one of the worst of the back slums of London, 
and her father is an idle drunkard ; I fear, also, a 
criminal." 



62 POST HASTE : 

" How strange and sad," said Aspel, whose heart 
was easily touched and sympathies roused by tales 
of sorrow. " But how comes it that she has escaped 
contamination?" 

" Because she has a good — by which I mean a 
Christian — mother. Ah ! Mr. Aspel, you have 
no idea how many unknown and unnoticed gems 
there are half smothered in the moral mud and 
filth of London. It is a wonderful — a tremendous 
city; — tremendous because of the mighty influ- 
ences for good as well as evil which are constantly 
at work in it. There is an army of moral navvies 
labouring here, who are continually unearthing 
these gems, and there are others who polish them. 
I have the honour to be a member of this army. 
Dear little Tottie is one of the gems, and I mean, 
with God's blessing, to polish her. Of course, I 
can't get her all to myself," continued Miss Lilly- 
crop with a sigh, "for her mother, who is a washer- 
woman, won't part with her, but she has agreed to 
come and work for me every morning for a few 
hours, and I can get her now and then of an even- 
ing. My chief regret is that the poor thing has a 
long long way to walk from her miserable home to 
reach me. I don't know how she will stand it. 
She has been only a few days in my service." 

As the unpolished diamond entered at this 
moment with a large plate of buttered toast, Miss 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 63 

Lillycrop changed the subject abruptly by express- 
ing a hope that May May lands had not to ,go on 
late duty that evening. 

" Oh, no ; it 's not my turn for a week yet/' said 
May. 

" It seems to me very hard that they should work 
you night and day," said Phil, who had been quietly 
drinking in new ideas with his tea while his cousin 
discoursed. 

" But they don't work us night and day, Phil," 
returned May, " it is only the telegraphs that do 
that. We of the female staff work in relays. If 
we commence at 8 A.M. we work till 4 P.M. If we 
begin at nine we work till five, and so on — eight 
P.M. being our latest hour. Night duty is performed 
by men, who are divided into two sections, and it 
is so arranged that each man has an alternate long 
and short duty — working three hours one night and 
thirteen hours the next. We are allowed half-an- 
hour for dinner, which we eat in a diuing-hall in the 
place. Of course we dine in relays also, as there 
are above twelve hundred of us, male and female." 

" How many ? " asked George Aspel in surprise. 

" Above twelve hundred." 

" Why, that would make two pretty fair regi- 
ments of soldiers," said Aspel. 

" No, George," said Phil, "it's two regiments of 
pretty fair soldiers that they 'd make." 



64 . POST HASTE : 

" Can't you hold your tongue, man, an' let May 
talk ?" retorted Aspel. 

" So, you see," continued May, " that amongst us 
we manage to have the telegraphic communication 
of the kingdom well attended to." 

"But tell me. May," said Phil, " do they really 
suck messages through tubes two miles long ? " 

"Indeed they do, Phil. You see, the General 
Post-Office in London is in direct communication 
with all the chief centres of the kingdom, such 
as Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, 
Glasgow, Dublin, Cork, etc., so that all messages 
sent from London must pass through the great 
hall at St. Martin's -le-Grand. But there are many 
offices in London for receiving telegrams besides 
the General Post-Office. Suppose that one of 
these offices in the city receives numerous tele- 
grams every hour all day long, — instead of trans- 
mitting these by wire to the General Post-Office, to 
be re- distributed to their various destinations, they 
are collected and put bodily into cylindrical leather 
cases, which are inserted into pneumatic metal tubes. 
These extend to our central office, and through them 
the telegrams are sucked just as they are written. 
The lonoest tube, from the West Strand, is about two 
miles, and each bundle or cylinder of telegrams takes 
about three minutes to travel. There are upwards 
of thirty sucli tubes, and the suction business is 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 65 

done by two enormous fifty-horse-power steam- 
engines in the basement of our splendid building. 
There is a third engine, which is kept ready to work 
in case of a break- down, or while one of the others 
is being repaired." 

"Ah ! May, wouldn't there be the grand blow-up 
if you were to burst your boilers in the basement?" 
said Phil. 

"No doubt there would. But steam is not the 
only terrible agent at work in that same basement. 
If you only saw the electric batteries there that 
generate the electricity which enables us up-stairs to 
send our messages flying from London to the Land's 
End or John o' Groat's, or the heart of Ireland ! You 
must know that a far stronger battery is required 
to send messages a long way than a short. Our 
battery-inspector told me the other day that he 
could not tell exactly the power of all the batteries 
united, but he had no doubt it was sufficient to blow 
the 3ntire building into the middle of next week. 
Now you know, Phil, it would require a pretty 
severe shock to do that, wouldn't it ? F.ortunately 
the accidental union of all the batteries is impos- 
sible. But you '11 see it for yourself soon. And it 
will make you open your eyes when you see a room 
with three miles of shelving, on which are ranged 
twenty-two thousand battery -jars." 

" My dear," said Miss Lillycrop, with a mild smile, 

E 



66 POST HASTE : 

" you will no doubt wonder at my ignorance, but I 
don't understand what you mean by a battery-jar/' 

"It is a jar, cousin, which contains the sub- 
stances which produce electricity." 

" Well, well," rejoined Miss Lilly crop, dipping the 
sugar-spoon into the slop-bowl in her abstraction, 
''this world and its affairs is to me a standing miracle. 
Of course I must believe that what you say is true, 
yet I can no more understand how electricity is 
made in a jar and sent flying along a wire for some 
hundreds of miles with messages to our friends than 
I can comprehend how a fly walks on the ceiling 
without tumbling off." 

" I 'm afraid/' returned May, " that you would 
require to study a treatise on Telegraphy to com- 
prehend that, but no doubt Phil will soon get it 
so clearly into his head as to be able to communicate 
it to you. — You '11 go to the office with me on 
Monday, won't you, Phil?" 

" Of course I will — only too glad to begin at once." 

" My poor boy," said May, putting her hand on 
her brother's arm, " it 's not a very great beginniug 
of life to become a telegraph-messenger." 

" Ah ! now. May, that 's not like yourself," said 
Phil, who unconsciously dropped — perhaps we 
should say rose — to a more decided brogue when he 
became tender or facetious. " Is it rousin' the pride 
of me you 'd be afther ? Don't they say that any 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 67 

ould fiddle is good enough to learn upon ? Mustn't 
I put my foot on the first round o' the ladder if I want 
to go up higher? If I 'm to be Postmaster- General 
mustn't I get a general knowledge of the post from 
the bottom to the top by goin' through it ? It 's 
only men like George there that can go slap over 
everything at a bound." 

" Come, Phil, don't be impertinent," said George, 
" it 's a bad sign in one so young. Will you con- 
voy me a short way ? I must go now." 

He rose as he spoke and bade Miss Lillycrop 
good-evening. That lady expressed an earnest 
hope that he would come to see her frequently, and 
he promised to do so as often as he could find time. 
He also bade May good-evening because she was to 
spend the night with her cousin, but May parted 
from him with the same touch of reserve that 
marked their meeting. He resented this by 
drawing himself up and turning away somewhat 
coldly. 

'' Now, Phil," he said, almost sternly, on reaching 
the street, "here's a letter to Sir James Clubley 
which I w^ant to read to you. — Listen." 

By the light of a lamp he read : — 

^ " Dear Sir, — I appreciate your kindness in 
offering me the situation mentioned in your letter 
of the 4th, and especially your remarks in reference 
to my late father, who was indeed worthy of esteem. 



68 POST HASTE : 

I shall have pleasure in calling on you on hearing 
that you are satisfied with the testimonials herewith 
enclosed. — I am, etc." 

" Now, Phil, will that do?" 

" Do ? of course it will. Nothing could be better. 
Only-" 

" Well, what ?" 

" Don't you think that you might call without 
waiting to hear his opinion of your testimonials ?" 

*' No, Phil, I don't," replied the other in a slightly 
petulant tone ; " I don't feel quite sure of the spirit 
in which he referred to my dear father. Of course 
it was kind and all that, but it was slightly 
patronising, and my father was an infinitely superior 
man to himself." 

"Well, I don't know," said Phil; "if you're 
going to accept a favour of him you had better try 
to feel and act in a friendly way, but of course it 
would never do to encourage him in pride." 

" Well then, I '11 send it," said Aspel, closing the 
letter ; " do you know where I can post it ?" 

" Not I. Never was here before. I Ve only a 
vague idea of how I got here, and mustn't go far 
with you lest I lose myself." 

At that moment Miss Lillycrop's door opened 
and little Tottie issued forth. 

" Ah ! she will help us. — D' you know where 
the Post-Ofiace is, Tottie?" 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 69 

" Yes, sir, it 's at the corner of the street, Miss 
Lilly crop says." 

"Which direction?'* 

" That one, I think." 

" Here, I 'm going the other way : will you 
post this letter for me ?" 

" Yes, sir," said Toltie. 

" That's a good girl ; here 's a penny for you." 

" Please, sir, that 's not a penny," said the child, 
holding ont the half-crown which Aspel had put in 
her hand. 

" Never mind ; keep it." 

Tottie stood bereft of speech at the youth's 
munificence, as he turned away from her with a 
laugh. 

Now, when Tottie Bones said that she knew 
where the post was, she did so because her mis- 
tress had told her, among other pieces of local 
information, that the pillar letter-box stood at 
the corner of the street and was painted red ; but as 
no occasion had occurred since her arrival for the 
posting of a letter, she had not yet seen the pillar 
with her own eyes. The corner of the street, how- 
ever, was so plain a direction that no one except 
an idiot could fail to find it. Accordingly Tottie 
started off to execute her mission. 

Unfortunately— or the reverse, as the case may 
be — streets have usually two corners. The child 



70 POST HASTE : 

went, almost as a matter of course, to the wrong 
one, and there she found no pillar. But she was a 
faithful messenger, and not to be easily balked. 
She sought diligently at that corner until she really 
did find a pillar, in a retired angle. Living, as she 
did, chiefly in the back slums of London, where 
literary correspondence is not much in vogue, 
Tottie had never seen a pillar letter-box, or, if she 
had, had not realised its nature. Miss Lillycrop 
had told her it was red, with a slit in it. The 
pillar she had found was red to some extent with 
rust, and it unquestionably had a slit in it where, in 
days gone by, a handle had projected. It also had 
a spout in front. Tottie had some vague idea that 
this letter-box must have been made in imitation 
of a pump, and that the spout was a convenient 
step to enable small people like herself to reach the 
slit. Only, she thought it queer that they should 
not have put the spout in front of the pillar under 
the slit, instead of behind it. She was still more 
impressed with this when, after having twice got on 
the spout, she twice fell off in futile efforts to reach 
round the pump with her small arms. 

Baffled, but not defeated, Tottie waited till some 
one should pass who could put the letter in for her, 
but in that retired angle no one passed. Suddenly 
her sharp eyes espied a brick-bat. She set it up 
on end beside the pump, mounted it, stood on tip- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 71 

toe, and, stretching her little body to the very 
uttermost, tipped the letter safely in. The brick- 
bat tipped over at the same instant and sent bf*" 
lieadlong to the ground. But this was n^ 
to Tottie. Eegardless of the fall. ^"' 
self up, and, with the lio-!^^ 

gained a victory ir> '' . .an off 

to her misp'- ' .urns. 



72 POST HASTE : 



OHAPTEE VII. 

PHIL BEGINS Llx""!^) -'-Vli ja,.-ie= \ FRIEND. 

Some time after the small tea-party descriLod in 
our last chapter, Philip Maylands was invested 
with all the dignity, privileges, and emoluments of 
an ''Out-door Boy Telegraph Messenger" in the 
General Post- Office. He rejoiced in the conscious 
independence of one who earns his own livelihood, 
is a burden to nobody, and has something to spare. 
He enjoyed the privilege of wearing a grey uniform, 
of sitting in a comfortable room with a huge fire 
in the basement of the office, and of walking over 
a portion of London as the bearer of urgent and 
no doubt all-important news. He also enjoyed a 
salary of seven shillings sterling a week, and was 
further buoyed up with the hope of an increase 
to eight shillings at the end of a year. His duties, 
as a rule, began at eight each morning, and averaged 
nine hours. 

We have said that out of his vast income he had 



A TALE Of HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 73 

something to spare. This, of course, was not much, 
but owing to tlie very moderate charge for lodging 
made by Solomon Flint — with whom and his sister 
he took up his abode — the sum was sufficient to 
enable him, after a few months, to send home part 
of his first year's earnings to his mother. He did 
this by means of that most valuable institution of 
modern days a post-office order, which enables one 
to send small sums of money, at a moderate charge, 
and with perfect security, not only all over the king- 
dom, but over the greater part of the known world. 

It would have been interesting, had it been 
possible, to have entered into Phil's feelings on 
the occasion of his transacting this first piece of 
financial business. Being a country-bred boy, he 
was as bashful about it as if he had been only ten 
years old. He doubted, first, whether the clerk 
would believe him in earnest when he should 
demand the order. Then, when he received the 
form to fill up, he had considerable hesitation lest 
he should fill in the blanks erroneously, and 
when the clerk scanned the slip and frowned, he 
felt convinced that he had done so. 

"YouVe put only Mrs. Maylands," said the 
clerk. 

" Only Mrs Maylands 1" thought Phil ; " does the 
man want me to add ' widow of the Eev. James 
Maylands, and mother of all the little Maylands?'" 



H posthaste: 

but he only said, " Sure, sir, it's to her I want to 
send the money." 

" Put down her Christian name," said the clerk ; 
" order can't be drawn without it." 

Phil put down the required name, handed over 
the money, received back the change, inserted the 
order into a previously prepared letter, posted the 
same, and walked away from that office as tall as 
his friend George Aspel — if not taller — in sensa- 
tion. 

Let us now follow our hero to the boy- messengers' 
room in the basement of St. Martin's-le- Grand. 

Entering one morning after the delivery of a 
telegram which had cost him a pretty long walk, 
Phil proceeded to the boys' hall, and took his seat 
at the end of the row of boys who were awaiting 
their turn to be called for mercurial duty. Observing 
a very small telegraph-boy in a scullery off the hall, 
engaged in some mysterious operations with a large 
saucepan, from which volumes of steam proceeded, 
he went towards him. By that time Phil had 
become pretty well acquainted with the faces of his 
comrades, but this boy he had not previously met 
with. The lad was stooping over a sink, and 
carefully holding in the contents of tlie pan with 
its lid, while he strained off the boiling water. 

" Sure I've not seen you before ?" remarked Phil. 

The boy turned up a sharp-featured, but hand- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 75 

some and remarkably intelligent face, and, with a 
quick glance at Phil, said, " Well, now, any man 
might know you for an Irishman by your impu- 
dence, even if you hadn't the brogue." 

" Why, what do you mean ? " asked Phil, with an 
amused smile. 

" Mean !" echoed the boy, with the most refined 
extract of insolence on his pretty little face ; " I 
mean that small though I am, surely I'm big enough 
to be seen" 

" Well," returned Phil, with a laugh, " you know 
what I mean — that I haven't seen you before to-day." 

"Then w'y don't you say what you mean? 
How d'you suppose a man can understand you unless 
you speak in plain terms ? You won't do for the 
G. P. 0. if you can't speak the Queen's English. 
We want sharp fellows here, we do. So you'd 
better go back to Owld Ireland, avic cushla mavour- 
ueen — there, put that in your pipe and smoke it." 

Whether it was the distraction of the boy's mind, 
or the potent working of his impertinence, we know 
not, but certain it is that his left hand slipped 
somehow, and a round ball, with a delicious smell, 
fell out of the pot. The boy half caught it, and 
wildly yet cleverly balanced it on the lid, but it 
would have rolled next moment into the sink, if 
Phil had not made a dart forward, caught it like a 
foot-ball, and bowled it back into the pot. 



76 i?OST HASTE : 

" Well done ! splendidly done !" cried the boy, 
setting down his pot. " Arrah ! Pat/' he added, 
mocking Phil's brogue, and holding out his hand, 
" you're a man after my own heart; give me your 
flipper, and let us swear eternal friendship over 
this precious goblet." 

Of course Phil cheerfully complied, and the 
friendship thus auspiciously begun afterwards 
became strong and lasting. So it is all through the 
course of life. At every turn we are liable to meet 
with those who shall thenceforth exercise a power- 
ful influence on our characters, lives, and affections, 
and on whom our influence shall be strong for good 
or evil. 

"What's your name?" asked Phil; "mine is 
Philip Maylands." 

''Mine's Peter Pax," answered the small boy., 
returning to his goblet ; "but I've no end of aliases 
— such as Mouse, Monkey, Spider, Snipe, Imp, and 
Little 'un. Call me what you please, it's all one to 
me, so as you don't call me too late for dinner." 

" And what have you got there, Pax ?" asked Phil, 
referring to the pot. 

" A plum-pudding." 

"Do two or three of you share it ?"' 

" Certainly not," replied the boy. 

"What! you don't mean to say you can eat it 
all vourself for dinner?" 




FIRST MEETING OF PHIL AND PAX-Page 76. 



A TALE OF HKR MAJESTY'S MAILS. 77 

"The extent of my ability in the disposal of 
wittles," answered Pax, " I have never fairly tested, 
I think I could eat this at one meal, though I ain't 
sure, but it's meant to serve me all day. You 
see I find a good, solid, well-made plum- pudding, 
with not too much suet, and a moderate allow'ance 
of currants and raisins, an admirable squencher of 
appetite. It's portable too, and keeps well. Be- 
sides, if I can't get through with it at supper, it fries 
up next mornin splendidly. — Come, I'll let you 
taste a bit, an' that's a favour w'ich I wouldn't 
grant to every one." 

"No, thank 'ee, Pax. I'm already loaded and 
primed for the forenoon, but I '11 sit by you while 
you eat, and chat." 

" You 're welcome," returned Pax, " only don't 
be cheeky, Philip, as I can't meet you on an equal 
footing ^ 'en I 'm at grub." 

" "^ careful, Pax ; but don't call me Philip 

i.^hil ; come along, Phil ; ' Come fill up 
jj, come fill up my can' — that sort o' thing 
a understand, Phil, me darlint ?" 
There was such a superhuman amount of know- 
ing presumption in the look and air of Pax, as he 
poked Phil in the ribs and winked, that the latter 
burst into laughter, in which however he was not 
joined by his companion, who with the goblet in 



78 POST HASTE : 

one hand and the other thrust into his pocket, 
stood regarding his new friend with a pitiful 
expression till he recovered, and then led him off 
to a confabulation which deepened their mutual 
esteem. 

That same evening a gentleman called at the 
Post-Office, desiring to see Philip Maylands. It 
turned out to be George Aspel. 

" Why, George, what brings you here ?" said Phil 
in surprise. 

" I chanced to be in the neighbourhood," answered 
Aspel, " and came to ask the address of that little 
creature who posted my letter the other night. I 
want to see her. She does not go to your cousin's, 
I know, till morning, and I must see her to-night, 
to make sure that she did post the letter, for, 
d'you know, I 've had no reply from Sir James, and I 
can't rest until I ascertain whether my letter was 
posted. Can you tell me where she lives, Phil ?" 

At that moment Phil was summoned for duty. 
Giving his friend the address hastily, he left him. 

George Aspel passed the front of the General 
Post-Office on his way to visit Tottie Bones, and, 
observing a considerable bustle going on there, he 
stopped to gaze, for George had an inquiring mind. 
Being fresh from the country, his progress through 
the streets of London, as may be well understood, 
was slow. It was also harassing to himself and the 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 79 

public, for when not actually standing entranced in 
front of shop- windows his irresistible tendency to 
look in while walking resulted in many collisions 
and numerous apologies. At the General Post- 
Office he avoided the stream of human beings by 
getting under the lee of one of the pillars of the 
colonnade, whence he could look on undisturbed. 

Up to six o'clock letters are received in the 
letter-box at St. Martin's-le- Grand for the mails 
which leave London at eight each evening. The 
place for receiving book-parcels and newspapers, 
however, closes half-an-hour sooner. Before five a 
brass slit in the wall suffices for the public, but 
within a few minutes of the half-hour the steady 
run of men and boys towards it is so great that the 
slit becomes inadequate. A trap-door is therefore 
opened in the pavement, and a yawning abyss 
displayed which communicates by an inclined 
plane with the newspaper regions below. Into 
this abyss everything is hurled. 

When Aspel took up his position people were 
hurrying towards the hole, some with single book- 
parcels, or a few newspapers, others with armfuls, 
and many with sackfuls. In a few minutes the 
rapid walk became a run. Men, boys, and girls 
sprang up the steps — occasionally tumbled up, — 
jostled each other in their eager haste, and tossed, 
dropped, hurled, or poured their contributions into 



80 . POST HASTE : 

the receptacle, which was at last fed so hastily that 
it choked once or twice, and a policeman, assisted 
by an official, stuffed the literary matter down its 
throat — with difficulty, however, owing to the ever- 
increasing stream of contributors to the feast. The 
trap-door, when open, formed a barrier to the hole, 
which prevented the too eager public from being 
posted headlong with their papers. One youth 
staggered up the steps under a sack so large that 
he could scarcely lift it over the edge of the barrier 
without the policeman's aid. Him Aspel ques- 
tioned, as he was leaving with the empty sack, 
and found that he was the porter of one of the 
large publishing firms of the city. 

Others he found came from advertising agents 
with sacks of circulars, etc. 

Soon the minutes were reduced to seconds, and 
the work became proportionally fast and furious ; 
sacks, baskets, hampers, trays of material were 
emptied violently into that insatiable maw, and in 
some cases the sacks went in along with their 
contents. But owners' names being on these, they 
were recoverable elsewhere. 

Suddenly, yet slowly, the opening closed. The 
monster was satisfied for that time; it would not 
swallow another morsel, and one or two unfortunates 
who came late with large bags of newspapers and 
circulars had to resort to the comparatively slow 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 8l 

process of cramming their contents through the 
narrow slit above, with the comforting certainty 
that they had missed that post. 

Turning from this point George Aspel observed 
that the box for letters — closing, as we have said, 
half an hour later than that for books and papers — 
was beginning to show symptoms of activity. At 
a quarter to six the long metal slit suddenly opened 
up like a gaping mouth, into which a harlequin 
could have leaped easily. Through it Aspel could 
look — over the heads of the public — and see the 
officials inside dragging away great baskets full of 
letters to be manipulated in the mysterious realms 
inside. At five minutes to six the rush towards 
this mouth was incessant, and the operations at the 
newspaper-tomb were pretty much repeated, though, 
of course, the contents of bags and baskets were 
not quite so ponderous. At one side of the mouth 
stood an official in a red coat, at the other a 
policeman. These assisted the public to empty their 
baskets and trays, gave information, sometimes ad- 
vice, and kept people moving on. Little boys there, 
as elsewhere, had a strong tendency to skylark and 
gaze at the busy officials inside, to the obstruction of 
the way. The policeman checked their propensities. 
A stout elderly female panted towards the mouth with 
a letter in one hand and a paper in the other. She 
had fu'l two minutes and a half to spare, but felt 

F 



8^ POST HASTE : 

convinced she was too late. The red-coated offi- 
cial posted her letter, and pointed out the proper 
place for the newspaper. At two minutes to six 
anxious people began to run while yet in the street. 
Cool personages, seeing the clock, and feeling safe, 
affected an easy nonchalance, but did not loiter. 
One minute to six — eager looks were on the faces 
of those who, from all sides, converged towards the 
great receiving-box. The active sprang up the wide 
stairs at a bound, heaved in their bundles, or packets, 
or single missives, and heaved sighs of relief after 
them ; the timid stumbled on the stairs and blun- 
dered up to the mouth ; while the hasty almost 
plunged into it bodily. Even at this critical mo- 
ment there were lulls in the rush. Once there was 
almost a dead pause, and at that moment an ex- 
quisite sauntered towards the mouth, dropped a 
solitary little letter down the slope where whole 
cataracts had been flowing, and turned away. He 
was almost carried off his legs by two youths from a 
lawyer's of&ce, who rushed up just as the first stroke 
of six o'clock rang out on the night air. Slowly 
and grandly it tolled from St. Paul's, whose mighty 
dome was visible above the house-tops from the 
colonnade. During these fleeting moments a few 
dozens of late ones posted some hundreds of letters. 
With kindly consideration the authorities of St. 
Martin's-le-Grand have set their timepieces one 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 83 

minute slow. Aware of this, a clerk, gasping and 
with a pen behind his ear, leaped up the steps at 
the last stroke, and hurled in a bundle of letters. 
Next moment, like inexorable fate, the mouth 
closed, and nothing short of the demolition of the 
British Constitution could have induced that mouth 
to convey another letter to the eight o'clock mails. 

Hope, however, was not utterly removed. Those 
who chose to place an additional penny stamp 
on their letters could, by posting them in a separate 
box, have them taken in for that mail up to seven. 
Twopence secured their acceptance up to 7.15. 
Threepence up to 7,30, and sixpence up to 7.45, 
but all letters posted after six without the late fees 
were detained for the following mail. 

" Sharp practice ! " observed George Aspel to the 
red-coated official, who, after shutting the mouth, 
placed a ticket above it which told all comers that 
they were too late. 

" Yes, sir, and pretty sharp work is needful when 
you consider that the mails we 've got to send out 
daily from this office consist of over 5800 bags, 
weighing forty-three tons, while the mails received 
number more than 5500 bags. Speaks to a deal of 
correspondence that, don't it, sir ? " 

" What ! — every day ? " exclaimed Aspel in sur- 
prise. 

" Every day," replied the official, with a good- 



POST HASTE : 

humoured smile and an emphatic nod. " Why, sir," 
he continued, in a leisurely way, " we 're somewhat 
of a literary nation, we are. How many letters, 
now, d'you think, pass through the Post- Office 
altogether — counting England, Scotland, and Ire- 
land?" 

" Haven't the remotest idea." 

" Well, sir," continued the red-coated man, with 
impressive solemnity, "we passes through our 
hands in one year about one thousand and fifty- 
seven million odd." 

" I know enough of figures," said Aspel, with a 
laugh, " to be aware that I cannot realise such 
a number." 

" Nevertheless, sir," continued the official, with a 
patronising air, " you can realise something about 
such a number. For instance, that sum gives thirty- 
two letters per head to the population in the year ; 
and, of course, as thousands of us can't write, and 
thousands more don't write, it follows that the real 
correspondents of the kingdom do some pretty stiff 
work in the writing way. But these are only the 
letters. If you include somewhere about four hun- 
dred and twenty million post-cards, newspapers, 
book-packets, and circulars, you have a sum-total of 
fourteen hundred and seventy-seven million odd 
passing through our hands. Put that down in 
figures, sir, w'en you git home — 1,477,000,000 — an* 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 85 

pVaps it' 11 open your eyes a bit. If you want 'em 
opened still wider, just try to find out how long 
it would take you to count that sum, at the rate of 
sixty to the minute, beginning one, two, three, and 
so on, workin' eight hours a day without takin' time 
for meals, but givin' you off sixty-five days each year 
for Sundays and holidays to recruit your wasted 
lergies." 

" How long ivould it take ? " asked Aspel, with an 
amused but interested look. 

" Wy, sir, it would take you just a little over 
one hundred and seventy years. The calculation 
ain't difficult ; you can try it for yourself if you 
don't believe it. — Good- night, sir," added the red- 
coated official, with a pleasant nod, as he turned and 
entered the great building, where a huge proportion 
of this amazing work was being at that moment 
actively manipulated 



■"^OST HASTE ; 



CHAPTEE VIII. 

DOWNWARD — DEEPER AND DEEPER. 

As the great bell of St. Paul's struck the half- 
hour, George Aspel was reminded of the main object 
of his visit to that part of the City. Descending to 
the street, and pondering in silent wonder on the 
vast literary correspondence of the kingdom, he 
strode rapidly onward, his long legs enabling him to 
pass ahead of the stream of life that flowed with 
him, and causing him to jostle not a few members 
of the stream that opposed him. 

"Hallo, sir!" "Look out!" "Mind your eye, 
stoopid!" "Now, then, you lamp-post, w'ere are 
you agoin' to?" "Wot asylum 'ave you escaped 
from ?" were among the mildest remarks with which 
he was greeted. 

But Aspel heeded them not. The vendors of 
penny marvels failed to attract him. Even the 
print-shop windows had lost their influence for a 
time ; and as for monkeys, barrel-organs, and trained 
birds, they were as the dust under his feet, although 
at other times they formed a perpetual feast to his 
unsophisticated soul. "Letters, letters, letters !'* 



A TALE OF HEE MAJESTY'S MAILS. 87 

He could think of nothing else. " Fourteen hundred 
and seventy-seven millions of letters, etc., through 
the Post- Office in one year ! " kept ringing through 
his brain ; only varied in its monotony by "that gives 
thirty-two letters per head to the entire population, 
and as lots of 'em can't write, of course it's much 
more for those who can ! Take a man one hundred 
and seventy years to count 'em !" 

At this point the brilliant glare of a gin -palace 
reminded him that he had walked far and long, and 
had for some time felt thirsty. Entering, he called 
for a pot of beer. It was not a huge draught for a 
man of his size. As he drained it the memory pf 
grand old jovial sea-kings crossed his mind, and he 
called for another pot. As he was about to apply 
it to his lips, and shook back his flaxen curls, the 
remembrance of a Norse drinking-cup in his pos- 
session — an heirloom, which could not stand on 
its bottom, and had therefore to be emptied before 
being set down, — induced him to chuckle quietly 
before quaffing his beer. 

On setting down the empty pot he observed a 
poor miserable-looking woman, with a black eye and 
a black bottle, gazing at him in undisguised admira- 
tion. Instantly he called for a third pot of beer. 
Being supplied by the wondering shop -boy, he 
handed it to the woman ; but she shook her head, 
and drew back with an air of decision. 



88 POST HASTE : 

" No, sir," she said, " but thank you kindly all the 
same, sir." 

" Very well," returned the youth, putting the pot 
and a half-crown on the counter, " you may drink 
it or leave it as you please. I pay for it, and you 
may take the change — or leave that too if you like," 
he added, as he went out, somewhat displeased that 
his feeling of generosity had been snubbed. 

After wandering a short distance he was in- 
volved in labyrinths of brick and mortar, and 
suddenly became convinced that he was lost. This 
was however a small matter. To find one's way 
by asking it is not difficult, even in London, if one 
possesses average intelligence. 

The first man he stopped was a Scot. With 
characteristic caution that worthy cleared his throat, 
and with national deliberation repeated Aspel's 
query, after which, in a marked tone of regret, he 
«aid slowly, " Weel, sir, I really div not ken." 

Aspel thanked him with a sarcastic smile and 
passed on. His next effort was with a countryman, 
who replied, " Troth, sur, that 's more nor I can tell 
'ee," and looked after his questioner kindly as he 
walked away. A policeman appearing was tried 
next. " First to the right, sir, third to the left, and 
ask again," was the sharp reply of that limb m the 
Executive, as he passed slowly on, stiff as a post, and 
stately as a law of fate. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 89 

Having taken the required turns our wanderer 
found himself in a peculiarly low, dirty, and dis- 
agreeable locality. The population was in keeping 
with it — so much so that Aspel looked round 
inquiringly before proceeding to " ask again." He 
had not quite made up his mind which of the 
tawdry, half-drunken creatures around him he would 
address, when a middle-aged man of respectable 
appearance, dressed in black, issued from one of the 
surrounding dens. 

" A city missionary," thought George Aspel, as he 
approached, and asked for direction to the abode 
of a man named Abel Bones. 

The missionary pointed out the entrance to the 
desired abode, and looked at his questioner with a 
glance which arrested the youth's attention. 

"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but the man you 
name has a very bad character." 

" Well, what then ?" demanded Aspel sharply. 

" Oh ! nothing. I only meant to warn you, for 
he is a dangerous man." 

The missionary was a thin but muscular man, with 
stern black eyes and a powerful nose, which might 
have rendered his face harsh if it had not been more 
•than redeemed by a large firm mouth, round which 
played lines that told unmistakably of the milk of 
human kindness. He smiled as he spoke, and 
Aspel was disarmed. 



90 POST HASTE : 

"Thank you," he said; "I am well able to take 
care of myself." 

Evidently the missionary thought so too, for, 
with a quiet bow, he turned and went his way. 

At the end of a remarkably dark passage George 
Aspel ran his head against a beam and his knee 
against a door with considerable violence. 

" Come in," said a very weak but sweet little 
voice, as though doors in that region were usually 
rapped at in that fashion. 

Lifting the latch and entering, Aspel found him- 
self confronted by Tottie Bones in her native home. 

It was a very small, desolate, and dirty home, 
and barely rendered visible by a thin " dip " stuck 
into an empty pint-bottle. 

Tottie opened her large eyes wide with astonish- 
ment, then laid one of her dirty little fingers on her 
rosy lips and looked imploringly at her visitor. 
Thus admonished, he spoke, without knowing why 
in a subdued voice. 

"You are surprised to see me, Tottie?" 

" I 'm surprised at nothink, sir. 'Taint possible 
to surprise me with anythink in this life." 

"D'you expect to be surprised by anything in 
any other life, Tottie ? " asked Aspel, more amused 
by the air of the child than by her answer. 

"PYaps. Dont much know, and don't much 
care," said Tottie. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 91 

" AYell, I Ve come to ask something," said the 
youth, sitting down on a low box for the convenience 
of conversation, " and I hope, Tottie, that you 11 tell 
me the truth. Here's a half-crown for you. The 
truth, mind, whether you think it will please me or 
not ; I don't want to be pleased — I want the truth." 

" I 'd tell you the truth without that" said Tottie, 
eyeing the half-crown which Aspel still held between 
his fingers, "but hand it over. We want a good 
many o' these things here, bein' pretty hard up at 
times." 

She spun the piece deftly in the air, caught it 
cleverly, and put it in her pocket. 

" Well, tell me, now, did you post the letter I 
gave you the night I took tea with Miss Lilly- 
crop?" 

" Yes, I did," answered the child, with a nod of 
decision. 

" You 're telling the truth ?" 

" Yes ; as sure as death." 

Poor Tottie had made her strongest asseveration, 
but it did not convey to Aspel nearly so much 
assurance as did the earnest gaze of her bright and 
truthful eyes. 

" You put it in the pillar ? " he continued. 

"Yes." 

"At the end of the street?" 

" Yes, at the end of the street ; and oh, you Ve 



^ 



92 POST HASTE : 

no idea what an awful time I was about it; the 
slit was so high, an' I come down sitch a cropper 
w'en it was done !" 

" But it went in all right ?" 

" Yes, all right." 

George Aspel sat for some moments in gloomy 
silence. He now felt convinced of that which at 
first he had only suspected — namely, that his in- 
tending patron was offended because he had not 
at once called in person to thank him, instead of 
doing so by letter. Probably, also, he had been 
hurt by the expressions in the letter to which 
Philip Maylands had objected when it was read 
to him. 

"Well, well," he exclaimed, suddenly giving a 
severe slap to his unoffending thigh, "I'll have 
nothing to do with him. If he's so touchy as 
that comes to, the less that he and I have to say 
to each other the better." 

" Oh ! ^please, sir, hush ! " exclaimed Tottie, point- 
ing with a look of alarm to a bundle which lay 
in a dark corner, " you '11 wake 'im." * 

"Wake who?" 

" Father," whispered the child. 

The visitor rose, took up the pint-bottle, and by 
the aid of its flaring candle beheld something that 
resembled a large man huddled together in a 
heap on a straw mattress, as he had last fallen 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S IVfAILS. 93 

down. His position, together with his torn and 
disarranged garments, had destroyed all semblance 
to human form save where a great limb protruded. 
His visage was terribly disfigured by the effects of 
drink, besides being partly concealed by his matted 
hair. 

" What a wretched spectacle !" exclaimed the 
young man, touching the heap with his foot as 
he turned away in disgust. 

Just then a woman with a black eye entered 
the room with a black bottle in her hand. She 
was the woman who had refused the beer from Aspel. 

" Mother," said Tottie, running up to her, " here 's 
the gent who — " 

" 'Av-'ee-go'-th'-gin ? " growled a deep voice from 
the dark corner. 

"Yes, Abel— " 

"*Ave'ee got th' gin, I say, Molly?" roared the 
voice in rising wrath. 

" Yes, yes, Abel, here it is," exclaimed the woman, 
hastening towards the corner. 

The savage who lay there was so eager to obtain 
the bottle that he made a snatch at it and let it slip 
on the stone floor, where it was broken to pieces. 

" don't, Abel dear, don't ! I '11 get another," 
pleaded the poor woman ; but Abel's disappoint- 
ment was too great for endurance ; he managed to 
rise, and made a wild blow at the woman, — missed 



94 POST HASTE : 

her, and staggered into the middle of the room. 
Here he encountered the stern glance of George 
Aspel. Being a dark, stern man himself, with a 
bulky powerful frame, he rather rejoiced in the sight 
of a man who seemed a worthy foe. 

" What d 'ee wan' here, you long-legged — hah ! 
would you?" he added, on observing Aspel's face 
flush and his fists close, " Take that !" 

He struck out at his adversary's face with tre- 
mendous violence. Aspel parried the blow and 
returned it with such good-will that Abel Bones 
went headlong into the dark corner whence he had 
risen, — and lay there. 

"I'm very sorry," said the instantly-repentant 
George, turning to Mrs. Bones, "but I couldn't 
help it ; really, I — " 

"There, there; go away, sir, and thank you 
kindly," said the unfortunate woman, urging — 
almost pushing — her visitor towards the door. 
" It '11 do 'im good, p'raps. He don't get that every 
day, an' it won't 'urt 'im." 

Aspel found himself suddenly in the dark pas- 
sage, and heard the door slammed. His first 
impulse was to turn, dash in the door with his foot, 
and take vengeance on Abel Bones, his next to 
burst into a sardonic laugh. Thereafter he frowned 
fiercely, and strode away. In doing so he drew 
himself up with sea-king-like dignity and assaulted 



A TALE Of HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 95 

a beam, wliich all but crushed his hat over his eyes. 
This did not improve his temper, but the beer had 
not yet robbed him of all self-control ; he stooped 
to conquer and emerged into the street. 

"Well was it for George Aspel that his blow had 
been such an effective one, for if a riot with Bones 
had followed the blow, there were numerous kindred 
spirits there who would have been only too glad to 
aid their chum, and the intruder would have fared 
badly among them, despite his physical powers. As 
it was, he soon regained a respectable thoroughfare, 
and hastened away in the direction of his lodgings. 

But a dark frown clouded his brow, for as he 
went along his thoughts were busy with what he 
believed to be the insolent pride of Sir James 
Ciubley. He also thought of May Maylands, and 
the resolution with which she so firmly yet so 
gently repelled him. The latter thought wounded 
his pride as well as his feelings deeply. While in 
this mood the spirit of the sea-kings arose within 
him once again. He entered a public-house and 
had another pot of beer. It was very refreshing — 
remarkably so ! True, the tall and stalwart young 
frame of George Aspel needed no refreshment at the 
time, and he would have scorned the insinuation 
that he required anything to support him — but— 
but — it was decidedly refreshing ! There could be 
no doubt whatever about that, and it induced him 



96 POST HASTE : 

to take a more amiable view of men in general — of 
" poor Abel Bones " in particular. He even felt less 
savagely disposed towards Sir James, thongh he by 
no means forgave him, but made up his mind finally 
to have nothing more to do with him, while as to 
May — hope told him flattering tales. 

At this point in his walk he was attracted by 
one of those traps to catch the unwary, which are 
so numerous in London — a music-hall. George 
knew not what it was, and cared not. It was a 
place of public entertainment : that was enough for 
him. He wanted entertainment, and in he went. 

It is not our purpose to describe this place. 
Enough is told when we have said that there were 
dazzling lights and gorgeous scenes, and much 
music, and many other things to amuse. There 
were also many gentlemen, but — no ladies. There 
was also much smoking and drinking. 

Aspel soon observed that he was expected either 
to drink or smoke. He did not wish to do either, 
but, disliking singularity, ordered a cigar and a 
glass of brandy-and-water. These were followed 
by another cigar and another glass. Towards mid- 
night he had reached that condition when drink 
stimulates the desire for more drink. Being aware, 
from former experience, of the danger of this con- 
dition, and being, as we have said, a man of some 
strength of will, he rose to go. 



] 



A TALE OF HER ^rAJESTY's MAILS. 97 

At the moment a lialf-tipsy man at the little 
table next him carelessly flung the end of his cigar 
away. It alighted, probably by accident, on the 
top of Aspel's head. 

" Hallo, sir !" shouted the enraged youth, starting 
up and seizing the man by his collar. 

"Hallo, sir!" echoed the man, who had reached 
his pugnacious cups, " let go." 

He struck out at the same moment. Aspel 
would have parried the blow, but his arm had been 
seized by one of the bystanders, and it took effect. 
on his nose, which instantly sent a red stream over 
his mouth and down the front of his shirt. 

Good-humour and kindliness usually served 
Aspel in the place of principle. Eemove these 
qualities temporarily, and he became an unguarded 
savage — sometimes a roaring lion. 

With a shout that suspended the entertainments 
and drew the attention of the whole house, he seized 
his adversary, lifted him in the air, and would in- 
fallibly have dashed him on the floor if he had not 
been caught in the arms of the crowd. As it was, 
the offender went down, carrying half-a-dozen 
friends and a couple of tables with their glasses 
along with him. 

Aspel was prevented from doing more mischief 
by three powerful policemen, who seized him from 
behind and led him into the passage. There a 

G 



98 POST HA.STE : 

noisy explanation took place, which gr'.ve the offen- 
der time to cool and reflect on his madness. On 
his talking quietly to the policemen, and readily 
paying for the damage he had done, he was allowed 
to go free. Descending the stair to the street, 
where the glare of the entrance-lamps fell full upon 
him, he felt a sudden sensation of faintness, caused 
by the combination of cold air, excitement, drink, 
and smoke. Seizing the railings with one hand, he 
stood for a moment with his eyes shut. 

Ee-opening them, and gazing stupidly before him, 
he encountered the horrified gaze of May Maylands ! 
She had been spending the evening with Miss 
Lillycrop, and was on her way home, escorted by 
Solomon Flint. 

" Come along, Miss May," said Solomon, " don't 
be afraid of 'im. He can't 'urt you — too far gone 
for that, bless you. Come on." 

May yielded, and was out of sight in a moment. 

Filled with horror, despair, madness, and self- 
contempt, George Aspel stood holding on to the 
railings and glaring into vacuity. Eecovering him- 
self he staggered home and went to bed. 



k TALE OF HEK MAJESTY'S MAILS. 99 



CHAPTEE IX. 

MR. BLURT AND GEORGE ASPEL IN PECULIAR CIRCUMSTANCES. 

When a man finds himself in a false position, 
out of which he sees no way of escape, he is apt to 
feel a depression of spirits which reveals itself in 
the expression of his countenance. 

One morning Mr. Enoch Blurt sat on a high stool 
in his brother's shop, with his elbows on a screened 
desk, his chin in his hands, and a grim smile on 
his lips. 

The shop was a peculiar one. It had somewhat 
the aspect of an old curiosity shop, but the pre- 
dominance of stuffed birds gave it a distinctly 
ornithological flavour. Other stuffed creatures were 
there, however, such as lizards, frogs, monkeys, 
etc., all of which straddled in attitudes more or less 
unlike nature, while a few wore expressions of aston- 
ishment quite in keeping with their circumstances. 

" Here am I," soliloquised Mr. Blurt with a touch 
of bitterness, "in the position cf a shop-boy, in 
possession of a shop towards which I entertain 



100 POSTHASTE: 

feelings of repugnance, seeing that it has twice 
ruined my poor brother, and in regard to the details 
of which I know absolutely nothing. I had fancied 
I had reached the lowest depths of misfortune 
when I became a ruined diamond-merchant, but 
this is a profounder deep." 

" Here 's the doctor a-comin' down-stairs, sir," said 
an elderly female, protruding her head from the back 
shop, and speaking in a stage-whisper. 

" Very well, Mrs. Murridge, let him come," said 
Mr. Blurt recklessly. 

He descended from the stool, as the doctor 
entered the shop looking very grave. Every ex- 
pression, save that of deep anxiety, vanished from 
Mr. Blurt's face. 

" My brother is worse ? " he said quickly. 

" Not worse," replied the doctor, " but his case 
is critical. Everything will depend on his mind 
being kept at ease. He has taken it into his head 
that his business is going to wreck while he lies 
there unable to attend to it, and asked me earnestly 
if the shop had been opened. I told him I 'd step 
down and inquire." 

" Poor Ered !" murmured his brother sadly; " he 
has too good reason to fancy his business is going 
to wreck, with or without his attendance, for I find 
that very little is doing, and you can see that the 
entire stock isn't worth fifty pounds — if so much. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 101 

The worst of it is that his boy, who used to assist 
him, absconded yesterday with the contents of the 
till, and there is no one now to look after it." 

" That 's awkward. We must open the shop how- 
ever, for it is all-important that his mind should 
be kept quiet. Do you know how to open it, Mr. 
Blurt?" 

Poor Mr. Blurt looked helplessly at the closed 
shutters, through a hole in one of which the morning 
sun was streaming. Turning round he encountered 
the deeply solemn gaze of an owl which stood on a 
shelf at his elbow. 

" No, doctor, I know no more how to open it than 
that idiot there," he said, pointing to the owl, " but 
I 'il make inquiries of Mrs. Murridge." 

The domestic fortunately knew the mysterious 
operations relative to the opening of a shop. With 
her assistance Mr. Blurt took off the shutters, 
stowed them away in their proper niche, and threw 
open the door to the public with an air of invita- 
tion, if not hospitality, which deserved a better 
return than it received. With this news the doctor 
went back to the sick man. 

" Mrs. Murridge," said ]\Ir. Blurt, when the doc- 
tor had gone, " would you be so good as mind the 
shop for a few minutes, while I go up-stairs ? If 
any one should come in, just go to the foot of the 
stair and give two coughs. T shall hear you." 



102 POST HASTE : 

On entering liis brother's room, he found him 
raised on one elbow, with his eyes fixed wildly 
on the door. 

" Dear Fred," he said tenderly, hurrying forward, 
" you must not give way to anxiety, there 's a dear 
fellow. Lie down. The doctor says you '11 get well 
if you only keep <quiet." 

" Ay, but I can't keep quiet," replied the poor 
old man tremulously, while he passed his hand over 
the few straggling white hairs that lay on but failed 
to cover his head. " How can you expect me to keep 
quiet, Enoch, when my business is all going to the 
dogs for want of attention ? And that boy of mine 
is such a stupid fellow; he loses or mislays the 
letters somehow — I can't understand how. There 's 
confusion too somewhere, because I have written 
several times of late to people who owe me money, 
and sometimes have got no answers, at other times 
been told that they had replied, and enclosed 
cheques, and — " 

" Come now, dear Fred," said Enoch soothingly, 
while he arranged the pillows, " do give up thinking 
about these things just for a little while till you are 
better, and in the meantime I will look after — " 

" And he 's such a lazy boy too/' interrupted the 
invalid, — " never gets up in time unless I rouse him. 
— Has the shop been opened, Enoch ?" 

" Yes, didn't the doctor tell you ? I helped to 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 103 

open it myself," returned Enoch, speaking rapidly 
to prevent his brother, if possible, from asking after 
the boy, about whose unfaithfulness he was still 
ignorant. " And now, Fred, I insist on your hand- 
ing the whole business over to me for a week or 
two, just as it stands ; if you don't I '11 go back to 
Africa. Why, you've no idea what a splendid 
shopman I shall make. You seem to forget that 
I have been a successful diamond-merchant/' 

" I don't see the connection, Enoch," returned the^ 
other, with a faint smile. 

" That 's because you 've never been out of London, 
and can't believe in anybody who hasn't been born, 
or at least bred, within the sound of Bow Bells. 
Don't you know that diamond-merchants sometimes 
keep stores, and that stores mean buying and sell- 
ing, and corresponding, and all that sort of thing ? 
Come, dear Fred, trust me a little — only a little — 
for a day or two, or rather, I should say, trust God, 
and try to sleep. There 's a dear fellow — come." 

The sick man heaved a deep sigh, turned over on 
his side, and dropped into a quiet slumber — whether 
under the influence of a more trustful spirit or of 
exhaustion we cannoi say — probably both. 

Eeturning to the shop, Mr. Blurt sat down in his 
old position on the stool and began to meditate. 
He was interrupted by the entrance of a woman 
carrying a stuffed pheasant. She pointed out that 



104 POST HASTE : 

one of the glass eyes of the creature had got broken 
and wished to know what it would cost to have a 
new one put in. Poor Mr. Blurt had not the faint- 
est idea either as to the manufacture or cost of glass 
eyes. He wished most fervently that the woman 
had gone to some other shop. Becoming desperate, 
and being naturally irascible, as well as humorous, 
he tool^a grimly facetious course. 
gl *"My good woman," he said, with a bland smile, 
'^I would recommend you to leave the bird as it is. 
A dead pheasaut can see quite as well with one eye 
as with two, I assure you." 

" La ! sir, but it don't look so well," said the 
woman. 

" yes, it does ; quite as well, if you turn its 
blind side to the wall." 

" But we keeps it on a table, sir, an' w'en our 
friends walk round the table they can't 'elp seein' 
the broken eye." 

" Well, then," persisted Mr. Blurt, " don't let your 
friends walk round the table. Shove the bird up 
against the wall ; or tell your friends that it 's a 
humorous bird, an' takes to winking when they go 
to that side." 

The woman received this advice with a smile, but 
insisted nevertheless that a " noo ^eye " would be 
preferable, and wanted to know the price. 

" Well, vou know," said Mr. Blurt. " that depends 



A TALE OF HEli MAJESTY S MAILS. 105 

on the size and character of the eye, and the time 
required to insert it, for, you see, in our business 
everything depends on a life-like turn being given 
to an eye — or a beak — or a toe, and we don't like 
to put inferior work out of our hands. So you'd 
better leave the bird and call again." 

"Very well, sir, w'en shall I call ?" 

"Say next week. I am very busy just now, 
you see — extremely busy, and cannot possibly gi\ e 
proper attention to your affair at present. Stay- 
give me your address." 

The woman did so, and left the shop while Mr. 
Blurt looked about for a memorandum-book. Open- 
ing one, which was composite in its character — ■ 
having been used indifferently as day-book, cash- 
book, and ledger — he headed a fresh page with the 
words "Memorandum of Transactions by Enoch 
Blurt," and made the following entry : — 

" A woman — I should have said an idiot — came 
in and left a pheasant, minus an eye, to be repaired 
and called for next week." 

"There!" exclaimed the unfortunate man, shut- 
ting the book with emphasis. 

" Please, sir," said a very small sweet voice. 

Mr. Blurt looked over the top of his desk 
in surprise, for the owner of the voice was not 
visible. Getting down from his stool, and coming 
out of his den, he observed the pretty face and 







106 POSTHASTE: 

dishevelled head of a little girl not much higher 
than the counter. 

" Please, sir," she said, " can you change 'alf a sov.?" 

" No, I can't," said Mr. Blurt, so gruffly that the 
small girl retired in haste. 

" Stay ! come here," cried the repentant shopman. 

The child returned with some hesitation. 

" Who trusted you with half a sov.?" 

" Miss Lillycrop, sir." 

" And who 's Miss Lillycrop ?" 

" My missis, sir." 

"Does your missis think that I 'm a banker?" 
demanded Mr. Blurt sternly. 

" I dun know, sir." 

" Then why did she send you here ?" 

"Please, sir, because the gentleman wot keeps 
this shop is a friend o' missis, an' always gives 'er 
change w'en she w^ants it. He stuffs her birds for 
her too, for nothink, an' once he stuffed a tom-cat 
for 'er, w'ich she was uncommon fond of, but he 
couldn't make much of a. job of it, 'cause it died 
through a kittle o' boilin' water tumblin' on its back, 
which took off most of the 'air." 

While the child was speaking Mr. Blurt drew a 
handful of silver from his pocket, and counted out 
ten shillings. 

"There," he said, putting the money into the 
child's hand, "and tell Miss Lillycrop, with my 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 107 

compliments — Mr. Enoch Blurt's compliments — that 
my brother has been very ill, but is a little — a very 
little — better ; and see, there is a sixpence for 
yourself." 

" Oh, thank you, sir !" exclaimed the child, open- 
ing her eyes with such a look of surprised joy that 
Mr. Blurt felt comforted in his difficulties, and 
resolved to face them like a man, do his duty, and 
take the consequences. 

He was a good deal relieved, however, to find that 
no one else came into the shop during the remainder 
of that day. As he sat and watched the never- 
ceasing stream of people pass the windows, almost 
without casting a glance at the ornithological 
specimens that stood rampant there, he required no 
further evidence that the business had already gone 
to that figurative state of destruction styled " the 
dogs." The only human beings in London who 
took the smallest notice of him or his premises were 
the street boys, some of whom occasionally flattened 
their noses on a pane of glass, and returned looks 
of, if possible, exaggerated surprise at the owl, while 
others put their heads inside the door, yelled in 
derision, and went placidly away. Dogs also 
favoured him with a passing glance, and one or 
two, with sporting tendencies, seemed about to point 
at the game inside, but thought better of it, and 
went off. 



108 POST HASTE : 

At intervals the patient man called Mrs. Murridge 
to mind the shop, while he went up-stairs. Some- 
times he found the invalid dozing, sometimes fret- 
ting at the thoughts of the confusion about his 
letters. 

" If they all went astray one could understand it," 
he would say, passing his hand wearily over his brow, 
" because that would show that one cause went on 
producing one result, but sometimes letters come 
right, at other times they don't come at all." 

" But how d' you find out about those that don't 
come at all?" asked his brother. 

" By writing to know why letters have not been 
replied to, and getting answers to say that they 
have been replied to," said the invalid. " It 's very 
perplexing, Enoch, and I Ve lost a deal of money 
by it. I wouldn't mind so much if I was well, 
but—" 

" There, now, you 're getting excited again, Fred ; 
you must not speak about business matters. Haven't 
I promised to take it in hand ? and I '11 investigate 
this matter to the bottom. I '11 write to the Secre- 
tary of the General Post- Office. I '11 go down to St. 
Martin's-le-Grand and see him myself, and if he 
don't clear it up I '11 write letters to the Times 
until I bu'st up the British Post-Office altogether ; 
so make your mind easy, Fred, else I '11 forsake 
you and go right away back to Africa." 



A TALE OF IIEK MAJESTY'S MAILS. 109 

There was no resisting this. The poor invalid 
submitted with a faint smile, and his brother re- 
turned to the shop. 

" It 's unsatisfactory, to say the least of it," mur- 
mured Mr. Blurt as he relieved guard and sat down 
again on the high^ stool. " To solicit trade and to 
be unable to meet the demand when it comes is 
a very false position. Yet I begin to wish that 
somebody would come in for something — just for 
a change." 

It seemed aa if somebody had heard his wish 
expressed, for at that moment a man entered the 
shop. He was a tall, powerful man. Mr. Blurt 
had just begun to wonder what particular branch 
of the business he was going to be puzzled with, 
when he recognised the man as his friend George 
Aspel. 

Leaping from his stool and seizing Aspel by 
the hand, Mr. Blurt gave him a greeting so hearty 
that two street boys who chanced to pass and saw 
the beginning of it exclaimed, " Go it, old 'un !" 
and waited for more. But Aspel shut the door in 
their faces, which induced them to deliver uncom- 
plimentary remarks through the keyhole, and make 
unutterable eyes at the owl in the window ere 
they went the even tenor of their way. 

Kind and hearty though the greeting was, it did 
not seem to put the youth quite at his ease, and 



110 POSTHASTE: 

there was a something in his air and manner 
which struck Mr. Blurt immediately. 

"Why, you've hurt your face, Mr. Aspel," he 
exclaimed, turning his friend to the light. " And — 
and— you Ve had your coat torn and mended as 
if—" 

"Yes, Mr. Blurt," said Aspel, suddenly recovering 
something of his wonted bold and hearty manner ; 
"I have been in bad company, you see, and had 
to fight my way out of it. London is a more diffi- 
cult and dangerous place to get on in than I had 
imagined-at first." 

" I suppose it is, though I can't speak from 
much experience," said Mr. Blurt. " But come, sit 
down. Here 's a high stool for you. I '11 sit on the 
counter. Now, let 's hear about your adventures or 
misadventures. How did you come to grief?" 

" Simply enough," replied Aspel, with an attempt 
to look indifferent and easy, in which he was only 
half-successful. "I went into a music-hall one 
night and got into a row with a drunk man who 
insulted me. That 's how I came by my damaged 
face. Then about two weeks ago a fellow picked 
my pocket. I chased him down into one of his 
haunts, and caught him, but was set upon by half a 
dozen scoundrels who overpowered me. They will 
carry some of my marks, however, for many a day — 
perhaps to their graves ; but I held on to the pick- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. Ill 

pocket in spite of them until the police rescued me. 
That 's how my clothes got damaged. The worst of 
it is, the rascals managed to make away with my 
purse." 

" My dear fellow/' said Mr. Blurt, laughing, " you 
have been unfortunate. But most young men have 
to gather wisdom from experience. — And now, what 
of your prospects ? Excuse me if I appear inquisi- 
tive, but one who is so deeply indebted to you as I 
am cannot help feeling interested in your success." 

" I have no prospects," returned the youth, with a 
tone and look of bitterness that was not usual to 
him. 

" What do you mean ? " asked his friend in 
surprise, " have you not seen Sir James Clubley ? " 

" No, and I don't intend to see him until he has 
answered my letter. Let me be plain with you, 
Mr. Blurt. Sir James, I have heard from my 
. father, is a proud man, and I don't half like the 
patronising way in which he offered to assist me. 
And his insolent procrastination in replying to 
my letter has determined me to have nothing more 
to do with him. He '11 find that I 'm as proud as 
himself" 

"My young friend," said Mr. Blurt, "I had 
imagined that a man of your good sense would 
have seen that to meet pride with pride is not 
wise ; besides, to do so is to lay yourself open to 



112 tOST HASTE : 

the very condemnation wliicli you pronounce against 
Sir James. Still further, is it not possible that 
your letter to him may have miscarried ? Letters 
will miscarry, you know, at times, even in such a 
well-regulated family as the Post- Office." 

" Oh ! as to that," returned Aspel quickly, " I 've 
made particular inquiries, and have no doubt that 
he got my letter all right. — But the worst of it is," 
he continued, evidently wishing to change the sub- 
ject, "that, having lost my purse, and having no 
account at a banker's, I find it absolutely neces- 
sary, to work, and, strange to say, I cannot find 
work." 

" Well, if you have been searching for work 
with a black eye and a torn coat, it is not sur- 
prising that you have failed to find it," said Mr. 
Blurt, with a laugh. " But, my dear young friend 
and preserver," he added earnestly, " I am glad 
you have come to me. Ah ! if that ship had not 
gone down I might have — well, well, the proverb 
says it 's of no use crying over spilt milk. I have 
still a little in my power. Moreover, it so happens 
that you have it in your power to serve me — that is 
to say, if you are not too proud to accept the work 
I have it in my power to offer." 

" A beggar must not be a chooser," said Aspel, 
with a light laugh. 

"Well, then, what say you to keeping a shop ?" 



A TALE OF HER majesty's MAILS. 113 

*' Keeping a shop !" repeated Aspel in surprise. 

"Ay, keeping a shop — this shop," returned Mr. 
Blurt; " you once told me you were versed in natural 
history ; here is a field for you : a natural-historical 
shop, if I may say so." 

" But, my dear sir, I know nothing whatever 
about the business, or about stuffing birds — and — 
and fishes." He looked round him in dismay. 
" But you are jesting! " 

Mr. Blurt declared that he was very far from 
jesting, and then went on to explain the circum- 
stances of the case. It is probable that George 
Aspel would have at once rejected his proposal if it 
had merely had reference to his own advantage, 
and that he would have preferred to apply for 
labour at the docks, as being more suitable work for 
a sea-king's descendant ; but the appeal to aid his 
friend in an emergency went home to him, and he 
agreed to undertake the work temporarily, with an 
expression of face that is common to men when 
forced to swallow bitter pills. 

Thus George Aspel was regularly, though sud- 
denly, installed. When evening approached Mrs. 
IMurridge lighted the gas, and the new shopman set 
to work with energy to examine the stock and look 
over the books, in the hope of thereby obtaining at 
least a faint perception of the nature of the business 
in which he was embarked. 

H 



114 POSTHASTE: 

While thns engaged a woman entered hastily and 
demanded her pheasant. 

" Your pheasant, my good woman ?" 

" Yes, the one I left here to-day wi' the broken 
MjQ. I don't want to 'ave it mended ; changed my 
mind. Will you please give it me back, sir ?" 

" I must call the gentleman to whom you gave it," 
said Aspel, rather sharply, for he perceived the 
woman had been drinking. 

" Oh ! youVe no need, for there's the book he put 
my name down in, an' there's the bird a-standin' 
on the shelf just under the Aowl." 

Aspel turned up the book referred to, and found 
the page recently opened by Mr. Blurt. He had 
no difficulty in coming to a decision, for there was 
but one entry on the page. 

" This is it, I suppose," he said. " ' A woman — I 
should say an idiot — left a pheasant, minus ' — '* 

" No more a hidyot than yourself, young man, 
nor a minus neither," cried the woman, swelling 
with indignation, and red in the face. 

Just then a lady entered the shop, and approached 
the counter hurriedly. 

'' Oh ! " she exclaimed, almost in a shriek of 
astonishment, '' Mr. Aspel !" 

" Mr. Aspel, indeed," cried the woman, with in- 
effable scorn, — " Mr. Impudence, more like. Give 
me my bird, T say !" 



A TALE OP HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 1 1 5 

The lady raised her veil, and displayed the 
amazed face of Miss Lillycrop. 

" I came to inquire for my old friend — I'm so 
grieved ; I was not aware — Mr. Aspel — " 

" Give me my bird, I say ! " demanded the virago. 

"Step this way, madam," said Aspel, driven 
almost to distraction as he opened the door of the 
back shop. " Mrs. Murridge, show this lady up to 
Mr. Blurt's room. — Now then, woman, take your — 
your — brute, and be off." 

He thrust the one-eyed pheasant into the cus- 
tomer's bosom with such vigour that, fearing a 
personal assault, she retreated to the door. There 
she came to a full stop, turned about, raised her 
right hand savagely, exclaimed "You're another !" 
let her fingers go off with the force of a pea- cracker, 
and, stumbling into the street, went her devious 
way. , 



118 POSTHASTE 



CHAPTEE X. 



A MYSTERY CLEARED UP. 



When night had fairly hung its sable curtains 
over the great city, Mr. Blurt descended to the 
shop. 

"Now, Mr. Aspel, I'll relieve you. The lady 
you sent up, Miss Lillycrop, is, it seems, an old 
friend of my brother, and she insists on acting the 
part of nurse to-night. I am all the better pleased, 
because I have business to attend to at the other 
end of the town. We will therefore close the shop, 
and you can go home. By the way, have you a 
home r 

"0 yes," said Aspel, with a laugh. "A poor 
enough one truly, off the Strand." 

" Indeed ? — that reminds me : we always pay 
salaries in advance in this office. Here is a 
sovereign to account of your first quarter. We can 
settle the amount afterwards." 

Aspel accepted the coin with a not particularly 
good grace. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 117 

*'Now then, you had better — ha — excuse me — 
put up the shutters." 

Instantly tlie youth pulled out the sovereign and 
laid it on the counter. 

" No, sir," he said firmly ; " I am willing to aid 
you in your difficulties, but I am rot willing to 
become a mere shop-boy — at least not while there 
is man's work to be had." 

Mr. Blurt looked perplexed. " What are we to 
do ?" he asked. 

" Hire a little boy," said Aspel. 

" But there are no little boys about," he said, 
looking out into the street, where the wind was 
sending clouds of dust and bits of straw and paper 
into the air. " I would do it myself, but have not 
time ; I 'm late as it is. Ah ! I have it — Mrs. 
Murridge !" 

Calling the faithful domestic, he asked if she 
knew how to put up the shutters, and would do it. 
She was quite willing, and set about it at once, 
while Mr. Blurt nodded good-night, and went 
away. 

With very uncomfortable feelings George Aspel 
stood in the shop, his tall figure drawn up, his arms 
crossed on his broad breast, and his finely formed 
head bent slightly down as he sternly watched the 
operation. 

Mrs. Murridge was a resolute woman. She put 



118 



POST HASTE : 



up most of the shutters promptly in spite of the 
high wind, but just as she was fixing the last of 
them a blast caught it and almost swept it from 
her grasp. For two seconds there was a tough 
struggle between Boreas and the old woman. 
Gallantry forbade further inaction. Aspel rushed 
out just in time to catch Mrs. Murridge and the 
shutter in his strong arms as they were about to be 
swept into the kennel. He could do no more, 
however, than hold them there, the wind being too 
much even for him. While in this extremity he 
received timely aid from some one, whom the 
indistinct light revealed as a broad-shouldered little 
fellow in a grey uniform. With his assistance the 
shutter was affixed and secured. 

"Thank you, friend, whoever you are," said 
Aspel heartily, as he turned and followed the 
panting Mrs. Murridge. 

But the "friend," instead of replying, seized 
Aspel by the arm and walked with him into the 
shop. 

"George Aspel!" he said. 

George looked down and beheld the all but awe- 
stricken visage of Philip Maylands. 

Without uttering a word the former sat down on 
the counter, and burst into a fit of half-savage 
laughter. 

"Ah! then, you may laugh till you grow fat," 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 119 

said Phil, " but it 's more than that you must do if 
I 'm to join you in the laugh." 

"What more can I do, Phil?" asked Aspel, 
wiping his eyes. 

" Sure, ye can explain," said Phil. 

"Well, sit down on the counter, and I'll explain," 
returned Aspel, shutting and locking the door. Then, 
mounting the stool, he entered into a minute ex- 
planation — not only in reference to his present 
position and cicumstances but regarding his recent 
misfortunes. 

Phil's admiration and love for his friend were 
intense, but that did not altogether blind him to 
his faults. He listened attentively, sympathetically, 
but gravely, and said little. He felt, somehow, that 
London was a dangerous place compared with the 
west of Ireland, — that his friend was in danger of 
something vague and undefined, — that he himself 
was in danger of — he knew not what. While the 
two were conversing they heard a step in the now 
quiet street. It advanced quickly, and stopped at 
the door. There was a rustling sound ; something 
fell on the floor, and the step passed on. 

" It 's only a few letters," said Aspel ; " Mr. Blurt 
explained matters to me this morning. They seem 
to have been a careless lot who have managed this 
business hitherto. A slit was made in the door for 
letters, but no box has ever been attached to the 



120 POST HASTJE : 

slit. The letters put through it at night are just 
allowed to fall on the floor, as you see, and are 
picked up in the morning. As I am not yet fully 
initiated into my duties, and don't feel authorised 
to open these, we wiU let them lie. — HaUo ! look 
there.'* 

The last words were uttered in a low, soft tone. 
Phil Maylands glanced in his friend's face, and was 
directed by his eyes to a corner near the front door, 
where, from behind the shelter of an over-stuffed 
pelican of the wilderness, two intensely bright little 
eyes were seen glistening. The gradual advance of 
a sharp nose revealed the fact that their owner was 
a rat! 

No Eed Indian of the prairie ever sat with more 
statuesque rigidity, watching his foe, than did these 
two friends sit watching that rat. They were 
sportsmen, both by nature and practice, to the back- 
bone. The idiotic owl at their elbow was not more 
still than they — one point only excepted: Phil's 
right hand moved imperceptibly, like the hour- 
hand of a watch, towards a book which lay on the 
counter. Their patience was rewarded. Supposing, 
no doubt, that the youths had suddenly died to suit 
its convenience, the rat advanced a step or two, 
looked suspicious, became reassured, advanced a 
little farther and displayed its tail to full advantage. 
After smelling at various objects, with a view, no 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 121 

doubt, to supper, it finally came on the letters, 
appeared to read their addresses with some atten- 
tion, and, seizing one by a corner, began appai:antly 
to open it. 

At this point Phil Maylands' fingers, closing 
slowly but with the deadly precision of fate, grasped 
the book and hurled it at the foe, which was in- 
stantly swept off its legs. Either the blow or the 
fright caused the rat to fly wriggling into the air. 
With a shriek of agonised emotion, it vanished 
behind the pelican of the wilderness. 

" Bravo, Phil ! splendidly aimed, but rather low," 
cried Aspel, as he vaulted the counter and dislodged 
the pelican. Of course the rat was gone. After a 
little more conversation the two friends quitted the 
place and went to their respective homes. 

"Very odd and absolutely unaccountable," ob- 
served Mr. Blurt, as he sat next morning perusing 
the letters above referred to, *' here 's the same thing 
occurred agaia Brownlow writes that he sent a 
cheque a week ago, and no one has heard of it. 
That rascal who made off with the cash could not 
have stolen it, because he never stole cheques, — for 
fear, no doubt, of being caught, — and this was only 
for a small amount. Then, here is a cheque come 
all right from Thomson. Why should one appear 
and the other disappear?" 

"Could the rats have made away with it?" 



122 POSTHASTE: 

suggested Aspel, who had told his patron of ine 
previous night's incident. 

" Eats might destroy letters, but they could not 
eat- them — at least, not during the few hours of the 
night that they lie on the floor. No ; the thing is 
a mystery. I cannot help thinking that the Post- 
Ofiice is to blame. I shall make inquiries. I am 
determined to get to the bottom of it." 

So it ever is with mankind. People make mis- 
takes, or are guilty of carelessness, and straight- 
way they lay the blame — not only without but 
against reason — on broader shoulders than their 
own. That wonderful and almost perfect British 
Post-Office delivers quickly, safely, and in good 
condition above fourteen hundred millions of let- 
ters etc. in the year, but some half-dozen letters, 
addressed to Messrs. Blurt and Co., have gone amiss- 
ing, — therefore the Post-Office is to blame ! 

Pull of this idea Mr. Enoch Blurt put on his hat 
with an irascible fling and went off to the City. 
Arrived at St. Martin's-le-Grand he made for the 
principal entrance. At any other time he would 
have been struck with the grandeur of the buildings. 
He would have paused and admired the handsome 
colonnade of the old office and the fine front of 
the new buildings opposite, but Mr. Blurt could 
see nothing except missing letters. Architecture 
appealed to him in vain. Perhaps his state of 



I 



A TALE OF HER majesty's MAILS. 123 

irritability was increased by a vague suspicion that 
all Grovernment officials were trained and almost 
bound to throw obstacles in the way of free 
inquiry. 

" I want," said he, planting himself defiantly in 
front of an official who encountered him in the 
passage, " to see the — the — Secretary, the — the — 
Postmaster- General, the chief of the Post-Office, 
whoever he may be. There is my card." 

" Certainly, sir, will you step this way ?'" 

The official spoke with such civility, and led the 
way with such alacrity, that Mr. Blurt felt it neces- 
sary to think exclusively of his wrongs lest his 
indignation should cool too soon. Having shown 
him into a comfortable waiting-room, the official 
went off with his card. In a few minutes a gentle- 
man entered, accosted Mr. Blurt with a polite bow, 
and asked what he could do for him. 

" Sir," said Mr. Blurt, summoning to his aid the 
last rags of his indignation, " I come to make a 
complaint. Many of the letters addressed to our 
firm are missing — have been missing for some time 
past, — and from the inquiries I have made it seems 
evident to me that they must have been lost in pass- 
ing through the Post- Office." 

" I regret much to hear this," rsturned the gentle- 
man, whom — as Mr. Blurt never ascertained who he 
was — we shall style the Secretary, at all events he 



124 POSTHASTE: 

represented that officer. "You may rely on our 
doing our utmost to clear up the matter. Will you 
be kind enough to give me the full particulars ? " 

The Secretary's urbanity gave the whole of Mr. 
Blurt's last rags of indignation to the winds. He 
d^iled his case with his usual earnestness and 
good-nature. 

_ The Secretary listened attentively to the close. 
^ v« y^qW^ -^y Blurt," he said, " we will investigate 
the matter without delay ; but from what you have 
told me I think it probable that the blame does 
not lie with us. You would be surprised if you 
knew the number of complaints made to us, which, 
on investigation, turn out to be groundless. Allow 
me to cite one or two instances. In one case a 
missing letter having fallen from the letter-box of 
the person to whom it was addressed on to the hall- 
floor, was picked up by a dog and buried in some 
straw, where it was afterwards found. In another 
case, the missing letter was discovered sticking 
against the side of the private letter-box, where it had 
lain unobserved, and in another the letter had been 
placed between the leaves of a book as a mark and 
forgotten. Boys and others sent to post letters are 
also frequently unfaithful, and sometimes stupid. 
Many letters have been put into the receptacles for 
dust in our streets, under the impression that they 
were pillar letter-boxes, and on one occasion a letter- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 125 

carrier found two letters forced behind the plate 
affixed to a pillar letter-box which indicates the 
hours of collection, obviously placed there by the 
ignorant sender under the impression that that was 
the proper way of posting them. Your mention of 
rats reminds me of several cases in which these 
animals have been the means of making away with<- 
letters. The fact that rats have been seen in your 
shop, and that your late letters drop ©n the floor ani 
are left there till morning, inclines me to think that 
rats are at the bottom of it. I would advi^se you to 
make investigation without delay." 

" I will, sir, I will," exclaimed Mr. Blurt, starting 
up with animation, " and I thank you heartily for 
the trouble you have taken with my case. Good- 
morning. I shall see to this at once." 

And Mr. Blurt did see to it at once. He went 
straight back t© his brother's house, and made pre- 
paration for a campaign against the rats, for, being 
a sanguine and impulsive man, he had now become 
firmly convinced that these animals were somehow 
at the bottom of the mystery. But he kept his 
thoughts and intentions to himself. 

During the day George Aspel observed that his 
friend employed himself in making some unaccount- 
able alterations in the arrangements of one part of 
the shop, and ventured to ask what he was about, 
but, receiving a vague reply, he said no more. 



126 POSTHASTE: 

That night, after the rfhop was closed and Aspel 
had gone home, and Mr. Fred Blurt had gone to 
sleep, under the guardianship of the faithful Miss 
Lillycrop, and Mrs. Murridge had retired to the 
coal-hole — or something like it — which was hei 
dormitory, Mr. Enoch Blurt entered the shop with 
a mysterious air, bearing two green table-cloths. 
These he hung like curtains at one corner of the 
room, and placed a chair behind them raised on two 
empty packing-boxes. Seating himself -ju this 
chair he opened the curtains just enough to enable 
him to peep through, and found that he could see 
the letter-slit in the door over the counter, but not 
the floor beneath it. He therefore elevated his 
throne by means of another packing-box. All 
being ready, he lowered the gas to something like a 
dim religious light, and began his watch. It bade 
fair to be a tedious watch, but Enoch Blurt had 
made up his mind to go through with it, and what- 
ever Enoch made up his mind to do he did. 

Suddenly he heard a scratching sound. This was 
encouraging. Another moment and a bright pair 
of miniature stars were seen to glitter behind the 
pelican of the wilderness. In his eagerness to see, 
Mr. Blurt made a slight noise and the stars went 
out — suddenly. 

This was exceedingly vexatious. He blamed 
himself bitterly, resettled himself in his chair, 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 127 

rearranged the curtains, and glared intently. But 
altliougli Mr. Blurt could fix his eyes he could not 
chain his thoughts. These unruly familiars ere 
long began to play havoc with their owner. They 
hurried him far away from rats and ornithological 
specimens, carried him over the Irish Channel, 
made him look sadly down on the funnels of the 
Eoyal Mail steamer, plunged him under the waves, 
and caused him to gaze in fond regret on his lost 
treasures. His thoughts carried him even further. 
They bore him over the sea to Africa, and set him 
down, once more, in his forsaken hut among the 
diamond- diggers. From this familiar retreat he 
was somewhat violently recalled by a scratching 
sound. He glared at the pelican of the wilderness. 
The little stars reappeared. They increased in 
size. They became unbearable suns. They sud- 
denly approached. As suddenly Mr. Blurt rose 
to fight or fly — he could scarce tell which. It did 
not matter much, because, next instant, he fell head- 
long to the floor, dragging the curtains down, and 
forming a miscellaneous avalanche with the chair 
and packing boxes. 

The unfortunate man had fallen asleep, and the 
rats, which had in truth ventured out, fled to their 
homes as a matter of course. 

But Mr. Blurt had resolved to go through with 
i*^ Finding that he was unhurt, and that the house- 



128 POSTHASTE: 

hold had not been disturbed, he rebuilt liis erection 
and began his watch over again. The shock had 
thoroughly roused him. He did not sleep again. 
Fortunately London rats are not nervous. Being 
born and bred in the midst of war's alarms they soon 
get over a panic. The watcher had not sat more 
than a quarter of an hour when the stars appeared 
once again. The Pyramid of Cheops is not more im- 
movably solid than was Mr. Blurt. A sharp nose 
advanced ; a head came out ; a body followed ; a tail 
brought up the rear, and the pelican of the wilder- 
ness looked with calm indifference on the scene. 

The rat was an old grey one, and very large. It 
was followed by a brown one, nearly as large. There 
was an almost theatrical caution in their movements 
at first, but courage came with immunity from 
alarm. Six letters, that had been thrust through 
the slit by the evening postman, lay on the floor. 
To these the grey rat advanced, seized one in its 
teeth, and began to back out, dragging the letter 
alter it. The brown rat followed the grey rat's 
example. While thus engaged, another brown rat 
appeared, and followed suit. Nothing could have 
been more fortunate. Mr. Blurt was charmed. He 
could afford to let the grey rat well out of sight, 
because the two brown rats, following in succession, 
would, when he sprang on them, leave a trail of 
letters to point the direction of their flight. 



A TALK OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 129 

Just as the third rat dragged its missive behind the 
pelican of the wilderness the watcher leaped upon 
them, and in his haste consigned the pelican to all 
but irretrievable destruction ! The rats vanished, but 
left the tell-tale letters, the last two forming pointers 
to the first, which was already half dragged through 
a slit between the skirting and the wall. At the 
extremity of this slit yawned the gateway to the 
rats' palace. 

Mr. Blurt rubbed his hands, chuckled, crowed 
internally, and, having rescued the letters, went to 
bed. 

Next morning, he procured a crowbar, and, 
with the able assistance of George Aspel, tore 
off the skirting, uprooted a plank, and discovered 
a den in which were stored thirty-one letters, six 
post- cards, and three newspapers.-^ 

The corners of the letters, bearing the stamps, 
were nibbled away, showing that gum — not money 
or curiosity — was the occasion of the theft. 

As four of these letters contained cheques and 
money orders, their discovery afforded instant re- 
lief to the pressure which had been gradually bear- 
|ing with intolerable weight on the affairs of Messrs. 
I Blurt and Co. 

1 See Postmaster-General's Report for 1877, p. 13. 



130 posthaste: 



CHAPTEE XT. 

THE LEfTER-CARRIER GOES HIS ROUNDS, AIDS A LITTLE GIRL, 
AND OVERWHELMS A LADY STATISTICALLY. 

Solomon Flint, being a man of letters, was 
naturally a hard-working man. By night and by day 
did that faithful servant of his Queen and country 
tramp through the streets of London with the letters 
of the lieges in his care. The dim twilight of early 
morning found him poking about, like a solitary 
ghoul, disembowelling the pillar posts. The rising 
sun sent a deflected ray from chimney-pot or steeple 
to welcome him — when fog and smoke permitted. 
The noon-tide beams broiled him in summer and 
cheered him in winter on his benignant path of use- 
fulness. The evening fogs and glimmering lamps 
beheld him hard at work, and the nightly returning 
stars winked at him with evident surprise when 
they found him still fagging along through heat and 
cold, rain and snow, with the sense of urgent duty 
ever present in his breast, and part of the recorded 



i 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 131 

hopes, joys, fears, sorrows, loves, hates, business, 
and humbug of the world in his bag. 

Besides being a hard-working man, Solomon Flint 
was a public man, and a man of note. In the dis- 
trict of London which he frequented, thousands of 
the public watched for him, wished for him, even 
longed for him, and received him gladly. Young 
eyes sometimes sparkled and old eyes sometimes 
brightened when his well-known uniform appeared. 
Footmen opened to him with good- will, and servant- 
girls with smiles. Even in the low neighbourhoods of 
his district — and he traversed several such — Solomon 
was regarded with favour. His person was as sacred 
as that of a detective or a city missionary. Men who 
scowled on the world at large gave a familiar nod to 
him, and women who sometimes desired to tear off 
people's scalps never displayed the slightest wish to 
damage a hair of the postiqaan's head. He moved 
about, in fact, like a benign influence, distributing 
favours and doing good wherever he went. May it 
\ not be said truly that in the spiritual world we have a 
good many news-bearers of a similar stamp ? Are 
not the loving, the gentle, the self-sacrificing such ? — 
in a word, the Christ-like, who, if they do not carry 
letters about, are themselves living epistles " known 
and read of all men " ? 

One of the low districts through which Solomon 
Flint had to pass daily embraced the dirty court 



132 POSTHASTE: 

in which Abel Bones dwelt. Anticipating a very 
different fate for it, no doubt, the builder of this 
region had named it Archangel Court. 

As he passed rapidly through it Solomon observed 
a phenomenon by no means unusual in London 
and elsewhere, namely, a very small girl taking 
charge of an uncommonly large baby. Urgent 
though his duties were, Solomon would have 
been more than human if he had not stopped 
to observe the little girl attempt the apparently 
impossible feat of lifting the frolicsome mass of fat 
which was obviously in a rebellious state of mind. 
Solomon had occasionally seen the little girl in his 
rounds, but never before in possession of a baby. 
She grasped him round the waist, which her little 
arms could barely encircle, and, making a mighty 
effort, got the rebel on his legs. A second heave 
placed him on her knees, and a third effort, worthy 
of a gymnast, threw him on her little bosom. She 
had to lean dangerously far back to keep him there, 
and being incapable of seeing before her, owing to 
the bulk of her burden, was compelled to direct 
her course by faith. She knew the court well, 
however, and was progressing favourably, when a 
loose stone tripped her and she fell. Not having far 
to fall, neither she nor the baby was the worse for it. 

"Hallo, little woman!" said Solomon, assisting 
ber to rise, '' can't he walk ?" 



j'liiiiii! 




SOLOMON AND TOTTIE— Page 132. 



A TALE OV HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 133 

" Yes, sir ; but 'e won't/' replied the little maid, 
turning up her pretty face, and shaking back her 
dishevelled hair. 

The baby looked up and crowed gleefully, as 
though it understood her, and would, if able to speak, 
have said, " That's the exact truth, — ' he won't!'" 

" Come, I'U help you," said Solomon, carrying the 
baby to the mouth of the alley pointed out by the 
little girl. " Is he your brother ? " 

" no, sir ; I ain't got no brother. He 
b'longed to a neighbour who's just gone dead, an' 
mother she was fond o' the neighbour, an' promised 
to take care of the baby. So she gave 'im to me to 
nuss. An' oh ! you've no Mdea, sir, what a Aobsti- 
uate thing 'e is. I've 'ad 'im three days now." 

Yes ; the child had had him three days, and an 
amazing experience it had been to her. During that 
brief period she had become a confirmed staggerer, 
being utterly incapable of walking with baby in 
her arms. During the same period she had become 
unquestionably entitled to the gold medals of the 
Lifeboat Institution and the Humane Society, 
having, with reckless courage, at the imminent risk 
of her life, and on innumerable occasions, saved that 
baby from death by drowning in washtubs and 
kennels, from mutilation by hot water, fire, and 
steam, and from sudden extinction by the wheels of 
cabs, carriages, and drays, while, at the same time, 



134 POST HASTE : 

she had established a fair claim to at least the 
honorary diploma of the Royal College of Surgeons, 
by her amazing practice in the treatment of bruises 
and cuts, and the application of sticking-plaster. 

" Have you got a father or mother, my dear ? " 
asked the letter-carrier. 

"Yes, sir; I've got both of 'em. And oh! I'm 
so miserable. I don't know what to do." 

" Why, what 's wrong with you ? " 

The child's eyes filled with tears as she told 
how her father had gone off " on the spree ;" how 
her mother had gone out to seek him, promis- 
ing to be back in time to relieve her of the baby 
so as to let her keep an appointment she had 
with a lady ; and how the mother had never come 
back, and didn't seem to be coming back ; and how 
the time for the engagement was already past, and 
she feared the lady would think she was an un- 
grateful little liar, and she had no messenger to send 
to her. 

" Where does the lady live, and what 's her name, 
little woman ? " asked Solomon. 

" Her name is Miss Lilly crop, sir, and she lives 
in Pimlico." 

" Well, make your mind easy, little woman. It's 
a curious coincidence that I happen to know Miss 
Lilly crop. Her house lies rather far from my beat, 
but I happen to have a messenger who does his 



A TALE OF HEE majesty's MAILS. 135 

work both cheaply and quickly. I do a deal of 
work for him too, so, no doubt, he'll do a little for 
me. His name is Post-Office. — What is jour's, my 
dear ?" 

" Tottie Bones," replied the child, with the air of 
a full-grown woman. " An' please, sir, tell 'er I 
meant to go back to her at the end of three days, as 
I promised ; but I couldn't leave the 'ouse with 
baby inside, an' the fire, an' the kittle, with nobody 
to take care on 'em — could I, sir ?" 

" Cer'nly not, little woman," returned the letter- 
carrier, with a solemn look at the overburdened 
creature who appealed to him. Giving her two- 
pence, and a kindly nod, Solomon Flint walked 
smartly away — with a reproving conscience — to 
make up for lost time. 

That evening Mrs. Bones returned without her 
husband, but with an additional black eye, and 
other signs of bad treatment. She found the baby 
sound asleep, and Tottie in the same condition by 
his side, on the outside of the poor counterpane, 
with one arm round her charge, and her hair tum- 
bled in confusion over him. She had evidently 
been herself overcome while in the act of putting 
the baby to sleep. 

Mrs. Bones rushed to the bed, seized Tottie, 
clasped her tightly to her bosom, sat down on a 
stool, and began to rock herself to and fro. 



136 POST HASTE : 

The child, nothing loath to receive such treat- 
ment, awoke sufficiently to be able to throw her 
arms round her mother's neck, fondled her for a 
moment, and then sank again into slumber. 

" Oh ! God help me ! God save my Abel from 
drink and bad men ! " exclaimed the poor woman, 
in a voice of suppressed agony. 

It seemed as if her prayer had been heard, for at 
that moment the door opened and a tall thin man 
entered. He was the man who had accosted 
George Aspel on his iirst visit to that region. 

" You've not found him, I fear V he said kindly, 
as he drew a stool near to Mrs. Bones and sat down, 
while Tottie, who had been reawakened by his 
entrance, began to bustle about the room with 
something of the guilty feeling of a sentry who has 
been found sleeping at his post. 

"Yes, Mr. Sterling; thank you kindly for the 
interest you take in 'im. I found 'im at the old 
place, but 'e knocked me down an' went out, an' 
I 've not been able to find 'im since." 

"Well, take comfort, Molly," said the city 
missionary, for such he was ; " I 've just seen him 
taken up by the police and carried to the station as 
drunk and incapable. That, you know, will not 
bring him to very great trouble, and I have good 
reason to believe it will be the means of saving him 
from much worse." 



A TALE OF TIER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 137 

He glanced at the little girl as he spoke. 

" Tottie, dear," said Mrs. Bones, " you go out for 
a minute or two ; I want to speak with Mr. Ster- 
ling." 

*' Yes, mother, and I '11 run round to the bank ; 
I 've got twopence more to put in," said Tottie as 
she went out. 

"Your lesson has not been lost, sir," said the 
poor woman, with a faint smile ; " Tottie has a 
good bit o' money in the penny savings-bank now. 
She draws some of it out every time Abel brings us 
to the last gasp, but we don't let 'im know w'ere 
it comes from. To be sure, 'e don't much care. 
She 's a dear child is Tottie." 

" Thank the Lord for that, Molly. He is already 
answering our prayers," said Mr. Sterling. " Just 
trust Him, keep up heart, and persevere ; we 're sure 
to win at last." 

When Tottie Bones left the dark and dirty den 
that was the only home she had ever known, she 
ran lightly out into the neighbouring street, and, 
threading her way among people and vehicles, 
entered an alley, ascended a stair, and found hei-self 
in a room which bore some resemblance to an 
empty schoolroom. At one corner there was a 
desk, at which stood a young man at work on a 
business-looking book. Before him were several 
children of various ages and sizes, but all having 



138 POST HASTE: 

one characteristic in common — the aspect of ex- 
treme poverty. The young man was a gratuitous 
servant of the public, and the place was, for the 
hour at least, a penny savings-bank. 

It was one of those admirable institutions, which 
are now numerous in our land, and which derive 
their authority from Him who said, " Gather up the 
fragments that remain, that nothing be lost." 
Noble work was being done there, not so much 
because of the mere pence which were saved from 
the grog and tobacco shops, as because of the habits 
of thrift which were being formed, as well as the 
encouragement of that spirit of thoughtful economy, 
which, like the spirit of temperance, is one of the 
handmaids of religion. 

" Please, sir," said Tottie to the penny banker, 
" I wants to pay in tuppence." 

She handed over her bank-book with the money. 
Eeceiving the former back, she stared at the mys- 
terious figures with rapt attention. 

" Please, sir, 'ow much do it come to tww V she 
asked. 

" It 's eight and sevenpence, Tottie," replied the 
amiable banker, with a smile. 

" Thank you, sir," said Tottie, and hurried home 
in a species of heavenly contemplation of the enor- 
mous sum she had accumulated. 

When Solomon Flint returned home that night 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 139 

he found Miss Lillycrop seated beside old Mrs. 
Flint, shouting into her deafest ear. She desisted 
when Solomon entered, and rose to greet him. 

" I have come to see my niece, Mr. Flint ; do you 
expect her soon?" 

The letter-carrier consulted his watch. 

" It is past her time now, Miss Lillycrop ; she can't 
be long. Pray, sit down. You '11 stay and 'ave a 
cup of tea with us ? Now, don't say no. We 're 
just goin' to 'ave it, and my old 'ooman delights in 
company. — There now, sit down, an' don't go split- 
tin' your lungs on that side of her next time you 
chance to be alone with her. It 's her deaf side. A 
cannon would make no impression on that side, 
except you was to fire it straight into her ear. — I 've 
got a message for you, Miss Lillycrop." 

"A message for me?" 

" Ay, from a beautiful angel with tumbled hair and 
ragged clothes named Tottie Bones. Ain't it strange 
how coincidences happen in this life ! I goes an' 
speaks to Tottie, which I never did before. Tottie 
wants very bad to send a message to Miss Lillycrop. 
1 happens to know Miss LiUycrop, an' takes the 
message, and on coming home finds Miss Lillycrop 
here before me — and all on the same night — ain't 
it odd ?" 

" It is very odd, Mr. Flint ; and pray what was 
the message?" 



140 POSTHASTE: 

The letter-carrier, having first excused himself 
for making arrangements for the evening meal 
while he talked, hereupon related the circumstances 
of his meeting with the child, and had only con- 
cluded when May Maylands came in, looking a 
little fagged, but sunny and bright as usual. 

Of course she added her persuasions to those of 
her landlord, and Miss Lillycrop, being induced to 
stay tea, was taken into May's private boudoir to 
put off her bonnet. 

While there the good lady inquired eagerly about 
her cousin's health and work and companions ; asked 
for her mother and brother, and chatted pleasantly 
about her own work among the poor in the imme- 
diate neighbourhood of her dwelling. 

" By the way," said she, " that reminds me that I 
chanced to meet with that tall, handsome friend of 
your brother's in very strange circumstances. Do 
you know that he has become a shopman in the 
bird-shop of my dear old friend Mr. Blurt, who is 
very ill — has been ill, I should have said, — were 
you aware of that ?" 

"No," answered May, in a low tone. 

" I thought he came to England by the invitation 
of Sir Somebody Something, who had good prospects 
for him. Did not you ?" 

" So I thought," said May, turning her face away 
from the light. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 141 

" It is very strange," continued Miss Lillycrop, 
giving a few hasty touches to her cap and hair ; " and 
do you know, I could not help thinking that there 
was something queer about his appearance ? I can 
scarce tell what it was. It seemed to me like — 
like — but it is disagreeable even to think about 
such things in connection with one who is such a 
fine, clever, gentlemanly fellow — but — " 

Fortunately for poor May, her friend was sud- 
denly stopped by a shout from the outer room : — 

" Hallo, ladies ! how long are you goin' to be 
titivatin' yourselves ? There ain't no company 
comin'. The sausages are on the table, and the 
old 'ooman 's gittin' so impatient that she 's beginnin' 
to abuse the cat." 

This last remark was too true and sad to be 
passed over in silence. Old Mrs. Flint's age had 
induced a spirit of temporary oblivion as to sur- 
roundings, which made her act, especially to her 
favourite cat, in a manner that seemed unaccount- 
able. It was impossible to conceive that cruelty 
could actuate one who all her life long had been a 
very pattern of tenderness to every living creature. 
When therefore she suddenly changed from strok- 
ing and fondling her cat to pulling its tail, tweak- 
ing its nose, slapping its face, and tossing it off 
her lap, it is only fair to suppose that her mind 
had ceased to be capable of two simultaneous 



142 POSTHASTE: 

thoughts, and that when it was powerfully fixed 
on sausages she was not aware of what her hands 
were doing to the cat. 

" You 'II excuse our homely arrangements, Miss 
Lillycrop," said Mr. Flint, as he helped his guest to 
the good things on the table. " I never could get 
over a tendency to a rough-and-ready sort o' feedin'. 
But you 11 find the victuals good." 

" Thank you, Mr. Flint. I am sure you must be 
very tired after the long walks you take. I can't 
think how postmen escape catching colds when 
they have such constant walking in all sorts of 
weather." 

" It 's the constancy as saves us, ma'am, but we 
don't escape altogether," said Flint, heaping lar^e 
supplies on his grandmother's plate. " We often 
kitch colds, but they don't often do us damage." 

This remark led Miss Lillycrop, who had a very 
inquiring mind, to induce Solomon Flint to speak 
about the Post-Office, and as that worthy man was 
enthusiastic in regard to everything connected with 
his profession, he willingly gratified his visitor. 

" Now, I want to know," said Miss Lillycrop, after 
the conversation had run on for some time, and 
appetites began to abate, — " when you go about the 
poorer parts of the cit}^ in dark nights, if you are 
ever attacked, or have your letters stolen from 
you." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 143 

'' Well, no, ma'am — never. I can't, in all my long 
experience, call to mind sitcli a thing happenin' — 
either to me or to any other letter-carrier. The 
worst of people receives us kindly, 'cause, you see, 
we go among 'em to do 'em service. I did indeed 
once hear of a letter being stolen, but the thief was 
not a man — he was a tame raven !" 

" Oh, Solomon !" said May, with a laugh. " Ee- 
member that Grannie hears you." 

" No, she don't, but it 's all the same if she did. 
Whatever I say about the Post- Office I can give 
chapter and verse for. The way of it was this. 
The letter-carrier was a friend o' mine. He was 
goin' his rounds at Kelvedon, in Essex, when a tame 
raven seized a money letter he had in his hand and 
flew away with it. After circlin' round the town 
he alighted, and, before he could be prevented, tore 
the letter to pieces. On puttin' the bits together 
the contents o' the letter was found to be a cheque 
for thirty pounds, and of course, when the particu- 
lars o' the strange case were made known the cheque 
was renewed ! — There now," concluded Solomon, " if 
you don't beheve that story, you 've only got to 
turn up the Postmaster-General's Eeport for 1862, 
and you '11 find it there on page 24." 

" How curious !" said Miss Lilly crop. " There 's 
another thinsr I want to know," she added, looking 
with deep interest into the countenance of her host, 



144 POST HASTE : 

while that stalwart man continued to stow incredible 
quantities of sausages and crumpets into his capa- 
cious mouth. " Is it really true that people post 
letters without addresses ?" 

" True, ma'am ? why, of course it 's true. Thou- 
sands of people do. The average number of letters 
posted without addresses is about eighty a day." 

" How strange ! I wonder what causes this ? " 

Miss Lillycrop ga;5ed contemplatively into her 
teacup, and Solomon became suddenly aware that 
Grannie's plate was empty. Having replenished 
it, he ordered Dollops to bring more crumpets, and 
then turned to his guest. 

"I'll tell you what it is, ma'am, that causes 
this — it's forgetfulness, or rather, what we caU 
absence of mind. It 's my solemn belief, ma'am, 
that if our heads warn't screwed on pretty tight 
you 'd see some hundreds of people walkin' about 
London of a mornin' with nothin' whatever on their 
shoulders. Why, there was one man actually posted 
a cheque for £9, 15s. loose, in a pillar letter-box in 
Liverpool, without even an envelope on it. The 
owner was easily traced through the bank, but 
was unable to explain how the cheque got out of 
his possession or into the pillar. — Just listen to 
this, ma'am," he added, rising and taking down a . 
pamphlet from a bookshelf, "this is last year's 
Report. Hear what it says : — 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 145 

"* Nearly 28,500 letters were posted this year 
without addresses. 757 of these letters were found 
to contain, in the aggregate, about £214 in cash and 
bank-notes, and about £9088 in bills of exchange, 
cheques, etc' — Of course," said the letter-carrier, re- 
freshing himself with a mouthful of tea, " the money 
and bills were returned to the senders, but it warn't 
possible to do the same with 52,856 postage-stamps 
which were found knocking about loose in the bottom 
of the mail-bags." 

" How many ? " eried Miss Lillycrop, in amaze- 
ment. 

" Fifty-two thousand eight hundred and fifty- six/' 
repeated Solomon with deliberation. " No doubt," 
he continued, " some of these stamps had bin care- 
lessly stuck on the envelopes, and some of 'em 
p'r'aps had come out of busted letters which con- 
tained stamps sent in payment of small accounts. 
You 've no idea, ma'am, what a lot o' queer things 
get mixed up in the mail-bags out of bust letters 
and packages — all along of people puttin' things into 
flimsy covers not fit to hold 'em. Last year no fewer 
than 12,525 miscellaneous articles reached the Ee- 
turned Letter Office (we used to call it the Dead 
Letter Office) without covers or addresses, and the 
number of inquiries dealt with in regard to these 
things and missing letters by that Office was over 
91,000. 



146 POST HASTE : 

" We *re very partickler, Miss Lillycrop, in regard 
to these things," continued Solomon, with a touch of 
pride. "We keep books in which every stray article, 
unaddressed, is entered and described minutely, so 
that when people come howlin' at us for our care- 
lessness in non-delivery, we ask 'em to describe 
their missing property, and in hundreds of cases 
prove to them their own carelessness in makin' up 
parcels by handin* the wrecks over to 'em ! " 

" But what sort of things are they that break 
loose ? " asked Miss Lillycrop. 

" Oh, many sorts, i^nything may break loose if 
it 's ill packed, and, as almost every sort of thing 
passes through the post, it would be difficult to 'de- 
scribe 'em all. Here is a list, however, that may 
give you an idea of what kind of things the public 
sent through our mail-bags last year. A packet 
of pudding, a steam-gauge, a tin of cream, a bird's 
wing, a musical box, packet of snowdrops, fruit, 
sweets, shrimps, and sample potatoes ; a dormouse, 
four white mice, two goldfinches, a lizard and a blind- 
worm, all alive ; besides cutlery, medicines, varnish, 
ointments, perfumery, articles of dress ; a stoat, a 
squirrel, fish, leeches, frogs, beetles, caterpillars, and 
vegetables. Of course, many of these, such as live 
animals, being prohibited articles, were stopped and 
sent to the Eeturned Letter Office, but were restored, 
on application, to the senders." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 147 

Observing Miss Lillycrop's surprised expression of 
face, the old woman's curiosity was roused. " What 's 
he haverin aboot, my dear ? " she asked of May. 

" About the many strange things that are sent 
through the post, Grannie." 

" Ay, ay, likely enough," returned the old creature, 
shaking her head and administering an uninten- 
tional cuff to the poor cat ; " folk write a heap o' lees 
noo-a-days, nae doot." 

" You 'd hardly believe it now," continued Solomon, 
turning the leaves of the Eeport, " but it 's a fact that 
live snakes have frequently been sent through the 
post. No later than last year a snake about a yard 
Lng managed to get out of his box in one of the night 
mail sorting carriages on the London and North- 
AVestern Railway. After a good deal of confusion 
and interruption to the work, it was killed. Again, 
a small box was sent to the Returned Letter Office 
in Liverpool, which, when opened, was found to con- 
tain eight living snakes." 

" Come now, Mr. Flint," said May, " you mustn't 
bore my cousin with the Post- Office. You know 
that when you once begin on that theme there is no 
stopping you." 

" Very well. Miss May," returned the letter-carrier, 
with a modest smile, " let 's draw round the fire and 
talk of something else. — Hallo, Dollops ! clear away 
the dishes." 



148 POST HASTE : 

" But lie doesn't bore me," protested Miss Lilly- 
crop, who had the happy knack of being intensely 
interested in whatever happened to interest her 
friends. " I like, of all things, to hear about the Post- 
OiSice. I had no idea it was such a wonderful in- 
stitution. — Do tell me more about it, Mr. Flint, 
and never mind May's saucy remarks." 

Much gratified by this appeal, Solomon wheeled 
the old woman to her own corner of the fire, placed 
a stool under her feet, the cat on her knees, and 
patted her shoulder, all of which attentions she 
received with a kindly smile, and said that " Sol 
was a good laddie." 

Meanwhile the rotund maid-of-all-work having, 
as it were, hurled the crockery into her den, and 
the circle round the fire having been completed, as 
well as augmented, by the sudden entrance of Phil 
Maylands, the " good laddie " re- opened fire. 

" Yes, ma'am, as you well observe, it is a wonder- 
ful institution. More than that, it's a gigantic one, 
and it takes a big staff to do the duty too. In 
London alone the staff is 10,665. The entire staff 
of the kingdom is 13,763 postmasters, 10,000 clerks, 
and 21,000 letter-carriers, sorters, and messengers, 
— sum total, a trifle over 45,500. Then, the total 
number of Post-offices and receptacles for receiving 
letters throughout the kingdom is 25,000 odd. 
Before the introduction of the penny postage — 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 149 

in the year 1840 — there were only 4500! Then, 



" Mr. Flint ! pray stop !" cried Miss Lilly crop, 
pressing her hands to her eyes ; " I never could take 
in figures. At least I never could keep them in. 
They just go in here, and come out there (pointing 
to her two ears), and leave no impression whatever." 

" You 're not the only one that 's troubled with 
that weakness, ma'am," said the gallant Solomon, 
" but if a few thousands puzzle you so much what 
will you make of this ? — The total number of letters, 
post-cards, newspapers, etc., that passed through 
the Post-Of&ces of the kingdom last year was four- 
teen hundred and seventy-seven million eight hun- 
dred and twenty- eight thousand two hundred ! 
What d'ye make o' that, ma'am V 

"Mr. Mint, I just make nothing of it at all," 
returned Miss Lillycrop, with a placid smile. 

" Come, Phil," said May, laughing, " can you 
make nothing of it ? You used to be good at arith- 
metic." 

" Well, now," said Phil, " it don't take much 
knowledge of arithmetic to make something of 
that. George Aspel happened to be talking to me 
about that very sum not long ago. He said he had 
been told by a man at the Post-Office that it would 
take a man about a hundred and seventy years to 
count it. I tried the calculation, and found 



150 POST HASTE : 

he was right. Then I made another calculation : 
I put down the average length of an envelope at 
four inches, and I found that if you were to lay 
fourteen hundred and seventy-seven million letters 
out in a straight line, end to end, the lot would 
extend to above 93,244 miles, which is more than 
three times the circumference of the world. More- 
over, this number is considerably more than the 
population of the whole world, which, at the pre- 
sent time, is about 1444 millions, so that if the 
British Post-Office were to distribute the 1477 
millions of letters that pass through it in the year im- 
partially, every man, woman, and child on the globe 
would receive one letter, post-card, newspaper, or 
book-packet, and leave thirty- three millions to spare!" 

*' Now, really, you must stop this," said j\Iay ; " I 
see that my cousin's colour is going with her efforts 
to understand you. Can't you give her something 
more amusing to think of?" 

" Oh, cer'nly," said Solomon, again turning with 
alacrity to the Eeport. " Would you like to hear 
what some people think it 's our dooty to attend to ? 
I '11 give you a letter or two received by our various 
departments." 

Here the letter-carrier began to read the following 
letters, which we give from the same Eeport, some 
being addressed to the '' Chief of the Dead Office," 
others to the Postmaster- General, etc. : — 



A TALE OF HEK MAJKSTY'S MAILS. 151 

" May 18—. 

" Dear Sir, — I write to ask you for some informa- 
tion about finding out persons who are missing — I 
want to find out my mother and sisters who are in 
Melbourne in Australia i believe — if you would 
find out for me please let me know by return of 
post, and also your charge at the lowest, yours," etc. 

*'Novr. 8, 18—. 

"Sir, — Not having received the live bullfinch 
mentioned by you as having arrived at the Eeturned 
Letter Office two days ago, having been posted as 
a letter contrary to the regulations of the Postal 
system, I now write to ask you to have the bird 

fed and forwarded at once to , and to apply 

for all fines and expenses to . If this is not 

done, and I do not receive the bird before the end 
of the week, I shall write to the Postmaster-Gene- 
ral, who is a very intimate friend of my father's, and 
ask him to see that measures are taken against you 
for neglect. 

" This is not an idle threat, so you will oblige by 
following the above instructions." 

"Wales, iVov. 12, 18—. 

" Dear Sir, — I am taking the liberty of writeing 
you those few lines as I am given to understand 
that you do want men in New South Wales, and I 
am a Smith by Trade ; a single man. My age is 2 4 
next birthday. I shood be verry thankful if you 



152 POSTHASTE: 

wood be so kind and send all the particulars by 
return.* 

*' London, Nov. 5, 18 — . 

" Sir, — i right to you and request of you sinsearly 
for to help me to find out my husband, i ham quite 
a stranger in London, only two months left Ireland 
— i can find know trace of my husband — your the 
only gentleman that I know that can help me to find 

him. thears is letters goes to him to in his 

name and thears is letters comes to him to the 

Post-Office for him. — Sir you may be sure 

that i ham low in spirit in a strange contry 
without a friend. I hope you will be so kind as 

not to forget me. Sir, I would never find for 

I would go astray, besides i have no money." 

" So you see, ma'am," continued Solomon, closing 
the Eeport, " much though we do, more is expected 
of us. But although we can't exactly comply with 
such requests as these, we do a pretty stroke of 
business in other ways besides letter-distributin'. 
For instance, we are bankers on a considerable scale. 
Through our money- order agency the sum we trans- 
mitted last year was a trifle over £27,870,000, while 
the deposits in our Savings-Bai-ks amounted to 
over £9,166,000. Then as to telegraphs: there 
were — But I forgot," said Solomon, checking him- 
self, " Miss May is the proper authority on that sub- 
ject. — How many words was it you sent last year ?" 



A TALE OF IIT-irv MAJESTY'S MAILS. 153 

'' I won't tell you," said May, with a toss of her 
little head. '' You have already driven my cousin 
distracted. She won't be able to walk home." 

" My dear, I don't intend to walk home ; I shall 
take a cab," said the mild little woman. " Bo tell 
me something about your department." 

" No, cousin, I won't." 

" Sure, if ye don't, I will," said Phil. 

" Well then, I will tell you a very little just to 
save you from Phil, who, if he once begins, will kill 
you with his calculations. But you can't appreciate 
what I say. Let me see. The total number of tele- 
graphic messages forwarded by our offices in the 
United Kingdom during the last twelve months 
amounted to a little more than twenty-two millions.'* 

"Dear me!" said Miss Lillycrop, with that look 
and tone which showed that if May had said twenty- 
two quintillions it would have had no greater effect. 

" There, that 's enough," said May, laughing. " I 
knew it was useless to tell you." 

"Ah, May !" said Phil, "that's because you don't 
know how to tell her. — See here now, cousin Sarah. 
The average length of a message is thirty words. 
Well, that gives 660 millions of words. Now, a 
good average story-book of 400 pages contains about 
ninety-six thousand words. Divide the one by the 
other, and that gives you a magnificent library of 
6875 volumes as the work done by the Postal Tele- 



154 POSTHASTE: 

graphs every year. All these telegrams are kept 
for a certain period in case of inquiry, and then 
destroyed." 

" Phil, I must put on my things and go/' exclaimed 
Miss Lillycrop, rising. " I 've had quite as much as 
I can stand." 

"Just cap it all with this, ma*am, to keep you 
steady," interposed Solomon Flint ; — " the total 
reyenue of the Post-Office for the year was six 
millions and forty- seven thousand pounds; and the 
expenditure three millions nine hundred and ninety- 
one thousand. Now, you may consider yourself 
pretty well up in the affairs of the Post-Office." 

The old 'ooman, awaking at this point with a 
start, hurled the cat under the grate, and May 
laughingly led Miss Lilly crop into her little boudoir. 



A TALE OF liEU MAJESTY'S MAILS. 155 



CHAPTER XII. 

IN WHICH A BOSOM FRIEND IS INTRODUCED, RURAL FELICITY IS 
ENLARGED ON, AND DEEP PLANS ARE LAID. 

A BOSOM friend is a pleasant possession. Miss 
lillycrop had one. She was a strong-minded woman. 
We do not say this to her disparagement. A strong 
mind is as admirable in woman as in man. It is 
only when woman indicates the strength of her 
mind by unfeminine self-assertion that we shrink 
from her in alarm. Miss Lilly crop's bosom friend 
was a warm-hearted, charitable, generous, hard- 
featured, square-shouldered, deep-chested, large- 
boned lady of middle age and quick temper. She 
was also in what is styled comfortable circumstances, 
and dwelt in a pretty suburban cottage. Her name 
was Maria Stivergill. 

"Come with me, child," said Miss Stivergill to 
Miss Lillycrop one day, " and spend a week at The 
Eosebud." 

It must not be supposed that the good lady had 
given this romantic name to her cottage. No, when 



156 POST HASTE: 

Miss Stivergill bought it, she found the name on the 
two gate-posts ; found that all the tradespeople in 
the vicinity had imbibed it, and therefore quietly- 
accepted it, as she did all the ordinary affairs of life. 

" Impossible, dear Maria," said her friend, with a 
perplexed look, " I have so many engagements, at 
least so many duties, that — " 

" Pooh !" interrupted Miss Stivergill. "Put 'em 
off. Fulfil 'em when you come back. At all events," 
she continued, seeing that Miss Lillycrop still 
hesitated, " come for a night or two." 

« But—" 

" Come now, Lilly" — thus she styled her friend 
— " but give me no huts. You know that you Ve 
no good reason for refusing." 

"Indeed I have," pleaded Miss Lillycrop; "my 
little servant — " 

"What, the infant who opened the door to me ?" 

"Yes, Tottie Bones; she is obliged to stay at 
nights with me just now, owing to her mother, poor 
thing, being under the necessity of shutting up her 
house while she goes to look after a drunken 
husband, who has forsaken her." 

"Hah!" exclaimed Miss Stivergill, giving a 
nervous pull at her left glove, which produced a 
wide rent between the wrist and the thumb. "I 
wonder why women marry !" 

" Don't you think it 's a sort of — of — unavoid- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 157 

able necessity?" suggested Miss Lilly crop, with a 
faint smile. 

" Not at all, my dear, not at all. I have avoided 
it. So have you. If I had my way, I 'd put a stop 
to marriage altogether, and bring this micQ-no-ui- 
world to an abrupt close. — But littl 
difficulty : we '11 take her along with i 

" But, dear Maria— " 

" Well, what further objections, Lilly ?" 

" Tottie has charge of a ba.by, and — " 

" What ! one baby in charge of another ? " 

" Indeed it is too true ; and, you know, you 
couldn't stand a baby." 

"Couldn't I?" said Miss Stivergill sharply. 
" How d'you know that ? Let me see it." 

Tottie being summoned with the baby, entered 
the room staggering with the rotund mountain of 
good-natured self-will entirely concealing her person, 
with exception of her feet and the pretty little 
coal-dusted arms with which she clasped it to her 
heaving breast. 

" Ha ! I suppose little Bones is behind it," said 
Miss Stivergill. — " Set the baby down, child, and 
let me see you." 

Tottie obeyed. The baby, true to his principles, 
refused to stand. He sat down and stared at those 
around him in jovial defiance. 

" What is your age, little Bones ? " 



158 1»0ST HASTE: 

" Just turned six, m'm," replied Tottie, with a 
courtesy, which Miss Lillycrop had taught her with 
great pains. 

" You're sixty-six, at the least, compared with male 
creatures of the same age," observed her interrogator. 

"Thank you, m'm," replied Tottie, with another dip. 

^' fiave you a bonnet and shawl, little Bones ?" 

Tottie, in a state of considerable surprise, replied 
that she had. 

" Go and put 'em on then, and get that thing 
also ready to go out." 

Miss Stivergill pointed to the baby contemptu- 
ously, as it were, with her nose. 

"He's a very good bybie " — so the child pro- 
nounced it — " on'y rather self-willed at times, m'm," 
said Tottie, going through the athletic feat of lifting 
her charge. 

" Just so. True to your woman's nature. Always 
ready to apologise for the male monster that 
tyrannises over you. I suppose, now, you'd say 
that your drunken father was a good man ? " 

Miss Stivergill repented of the speech instantly 
on seeing the tears start into Tottie's large eyes as 
she replied quickly — 
/g- " Indeed I would, m'm. Oh ! you've no notion 
' 'ow kind father is w'en 'e 's not in liquor." 

" There, there. Of course he is. I didn't mean 
to say he wasn't, little Bones. It's a curious fact 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY*S MAILS. 159 

that many drun — , I mean people given to drink, 
are kind and amiable. It's a disease. Go now, 
and get your things on, and do you likewise, Lilly. 
My cab is at the door. Be quick." 

In a few minutes the whole party descended to 
the street. Miss Stivergill locked the door with 
her own hand, and put the key in her pocket. Xs 
she turned round, Tottie's tawdry bonnet had fallen 
off in her efforts to raise the baby towards the out- 
stretched hands of her mistress, while the cabman 
stood looking on with amiable interest. 

Catching up the bonnet. Miss Stivergill placed it 
on the child's head, back to the front, twisted the 
strings round her head and face — anyhow — lifted 
her and her charge into the cab, and followed them. 

"Where to, ma'am?" said the amiable cabman. 

" Charing Cross, — you idiot." 

" Yes, ma'am," replied the man, with a broad grin, • 
touching his hat and bestowing a wink on a passing 
policeman as he mounted the box. 

On their way to the station the good lady put 
out her head and shouted " Stop ! " 

The maligned man obeyed. 

"Stay here, Lilly, with the baby. — Jump out, 
little Bones. Come with me." ** 

She took the child's bonnet off and flung it under 
the cab, then grasped Tottie's hand and led her 
into a shop. 



160 posthaste: 

" A hat/' demanded the lady of the shopwoman. 
" What kind of hat, ma'am ?" 
" Any kind," replied Miss Stivergill, " suitable for 
this child — only see that it 's not a doll's hat. Let 

The shopwoman produced a head-dress, which 
Totne atterwards described as a billycock 'at with 
a feather in it. The purchaser paid for it, thrust 
it firmly on the child's head, and returned to the 
cab. 

A few minutes by rail conveyed them to a 
charmingly country-like suburb, with neat villas 
dotting the landscape, and a few picturesque old red 
brick cottages scattered about here and there. 

Such a drive to such a scene, reader, may seem 
very commonplace to you, but what tongue can tell, 
or pen describe, what it was to Tottie Bones ? That 
pretty little human flower had been born in the 
heart of London — in one ot the dirtiest and most 
unsavoury parts of that heart. Being the child 
of a dissolute man and a hard-working woman, who 
could not afford to go out excursioning, she had 
never seen a green field in her life. She had never 
seen the Thames, or the Parks. There are many 
such unfortunates in the vast city. Of flowers — 
with the exception of cauliflowers — she knew 
nothing, save from what little she saw of them 
in broken pots in the dirty windows of her 



A TALE OF HER majesty's MAILS. 161 

poor neighbourhood, and on the barrows and 
baskets of the people who hawked them about the 
city. There was a legend among the neighbours 
of Archangel Court that once upon a time — in some 
remote period of antiquity — a sunbeam had been 
in the habit of overtopping the forest of chimno-- 
and penetrating the court below in the middle of 
each summer, but a large brick warehouse had been 
erected somewhere to the southward, and had effec- 
tually cut off the supply, so that sunshine was 
known to the very juvenile population only through 
the reflecting power of roofs and chimney- cans 
and gable windows. In regard to scents, it need 
scarcely be said that Tottie had had considerable 
experience of that class which it is impossible to 
term sweet. 

Judge then, if you can, what must have been the 
feelings of this little town-sparrow when she sud- 
denly rushed, at the rate of forty miles an hour, 
into the heavenly influences of fields and flowers, 
hedgerows and trees, farm -yards and village spires, 
horse-ponds, country inns, sheep, cattle, hay-carts, 
piggeries, and poultry. 

Her eyes, always large and liquid, became great 
crystal globes of astonishment, as, forgetful of her- 
self, and almost of baby, she sat with parted lips and 
heaving breast, gazing in rapt ecstasy from the 
carriage window. 



162 POSTHASTE: 

Miss Stivergill and Miss Lillycrop, being sym- 
pathetic souls, gazed with almost equal interest on 
the child's animated face. 

" She only wants wings and washing to make her 
an angel," whispered the former to the latter. 
.^-^But if the sights she saw on the journey inflated 
Tottie's soul with joy, the glories of Rosebud Cottage 
almost exploded her. It was a marvellous cottage. 
Rosebushes surrounded it, ivy smothered it, leaving 
just enough of room for the windows to peep out, 
and a few of the old red bricks to show in harmony 
with the green. Creepers in great variety embraced 
it, and a picturesque clump of trees on a knoll behind 
sheltered it from the east wind. There was a 
farm -yard, which did not belong to itself, but 
was so close to it that a stranger could scarcely 
have told whether it formed part of the Rosebud 
domain or that of the neighbouring cottage. The 
day, too, was exceptionally fine. It was one of those 
still, calm, sunny, cloudless days, which induce 
healthy people sometimes to wish that earth might 
be their permanent home. 

" Oh, bybie !" exclaimed Tottie Bones, when, 
having clambered to the top of the knoll, she sat 
down on a tree-root and gazed on the cottage 
and the farm-yard, where hens were scratching in 
the interest of active chickens, and cows were 
standing in blank felicity, and pigs were revelling 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 163 

in dirt and sunshine — " Oh, bybie ! it 's *eaven 
upon earth, ain't it, darling V* 

The darling evidently agreed with her for once, 
for, lying on his back in the long grass, he seized 
two handfuls of wild-flowers, kicked up his fat legs, 
and laughed aloud. 

" That 's right, darling. Ain't it fun ? And such 
flowers too — oh ! all for nothing, only got to pull 
'em. Yes, roll away, darling, you can't dirty 
yourself 'ere. Come, I shall 'ave a roll too." With 
which remark Tottie plunged into the grass, seized 
the baby and tumbled him and herself about to such 
an extent that the billycock hat was much deterio- 
rated and the feather damaged beyond recovery. 

Inside the Eosebud the other two members of 
the party were also enjoying themselves, though 
not exactly in like manner. They revelled in tea 
and in the feast of reason. 

"Where, and when, and why did you find that 
child ?" asked Miss Stivergill. 

Her friend related what she knew of Tottie's 
history. 

"Strange !" remarked Miss Stivergill, but beyond 
that remark she gave no indication of the state of 
her mind. 

" It is indeed strange," returned her friend, " but 
it is just another instance of the power of God's 
Word to rescue and preserve souls, even in the most 



164 posthaste: 

unfavourable circumstances. Tottie's mother is a 
Christian, and all the energies of her vigorous 
nature are concentrated on two points — the training 
of her child in the fear of God, and the saving of hei 
husband from drink. She is a woman of strong 
faith, and is quite convinced that her prayers will 
be answered, because, she says, 'He who has 
promised is faithful,' but I fear much that she 
will not live to see it." 

"Why so?" demanded the other sharply. 

"Because she has a bad affection of the lungs. 
If she were under more favourable circumstances 
she might recover." 

" Pooh ! nonsense. People constantly recover 
from what is called bad affection of the lungs. Can 
nothing be done for her ?" 

" Nothing," replied Miss Lillycrop ; " she wiU not 
leave her husband or her home. If she dies — " 

« Well, what then ?" 

" Little Tottie must be rescued, y©u know, and I 
have set my heart on doing it." 

" You 11 do nothing of the sort," said Miss Stiver- 
gill firmly. 

Miss Lillycrop looked surprised. 

" No, you shan't rescue her," continued the good 
lady, with still firmer emphasis ; " you 've got all 
London at your feet, and there 's plenty more where 
that one came from. Come, Lilly, you mustn't be 



A TALE 0^ HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 165 

greedy. You raay have the baby if you like, but 
you must leave little Bones to me." 

Miss Lillycrop was making feeble resistance to 
this proposal when the subject of dispute suddenly 
appeared at the door with glaring eyes and a 
horrified expression of face. Baby was in her arms 
as usual, and both he and his nurse were dVctiched, 
besides being covered from head to foot with mud. 

It needed little explanation to tell that in cross- 
ing a ditch on a single plank Tottie had stumbled 
and gone lieadlong into the water with baby in her 
arms. Fortunately neither was hurt, though both 
had been terribly frightened. 

Miss Stivergill was equal to the occasion. Order- 
ing two tubs half-full of warm water into the back 
kitchen, she stripped the unfortunates and put them 
therein, to the intense joy of baby, whose delight in 
a warm bath was only equalled by his pleasure in 
doing mischief. At first Miss Stivergill thought of 
burning the children's garments, and fitting them 
out afresh, but on the suggestion of her friend that 
their appearing at home with new clothes might 
create suspicion, and cause unpleasant inquiries, she 
refrained. When thoroughly cleaned, Tottie and 
baby were wrapped up in shawls and set down to a 
hearty tea in the parlour. 

While this was being devoured, the two friends 
conversed of many things. Among others, Miss 



166 POST HASTE : 

Stivergill touched on the subject of her progenitors, 
and made some confidential references to her 
mother, which her friend received with becoming 
sympathy. 

" Yes, my dear,'* said Miss Stivergill, in a tone of 
unwonted tenderness. "I don't mind telling you 
all abov^t her, for you're a good soul, with a feeling 
heart. Her loss was a terrible loss to me, though 
it was great gain to her. Before her death we were 
separated for a time — only a short time, — but it 
proved to be a blessed separation, for the letters she 
wrote me sparkled with love and wit and playful- 
ness, as though they had been set with pearls and 
rubies and diamonds. I shall show you my trea- 
sures before going to bed. I keep them in that box 
on the side-board, to be always handy. It is not 
large, but its contents are more precious to me than 
thousands of gold and silver." 

She paused ; and then, observing that Tottie was 
staring at her, she advised her to make the most of 
her opportunity, and eat as much as possible. 

" If you please, m'm, I can't eat any more," said 
Tottie. 

" Can't eat more, child ? — try," urged the hospi- 
table lady. 

Tottie heaved a deep sigh and said that she 
couldn't eat another morsel if she were to try ever 
so much. As baby appeared to be in the same 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 107 

happy condition, and could with difficulty keep his 
eyes open, both children were sent to bed under 
the care of a maid, and Miss Stivergill, taking down 
her treasure- box, proceeded to read part of its con- 
tents to her bosom friend. 

Little did good Miss Stivergill imagine that she 
had dug a mine that night under Eosebud Cottage, 
and that the match which was destined to light it 
was none other than her innocent proUgie, little 
Bones. 

Throwing herself into the receptive arms of her 
mother, two days after the events just described, 
Tottie poured the delight and amazement of her 
surcharged spirit into sympathetic ears. Unfortu- 
nately her glowing descriptions also reached unsym- 
pathetic ears. Mrs. Bones had happily recovered 
her husband, and brought him home, where he lay 
in his familiar corner, resting from his labours of 
iniquity. The unsympathetic ears belonged to Mr. 
Abel Bones. 

When Tottie, however, in her discursive wander- 
ing began to talk of pearls, and rubies, and dia- 
monds, and treasures worth thousands of gold and 
silver, in a box on the sideboard, the ears became 
suddenly sympathetic, and Mr. Bones raised him- 
self on one elbow. 

" Hush 1 darling," said Mrs. Bones, glancing un- 
easily at the dark corner. 



I6g POSTHASTE: 

Mr. Bones knew well that if his wife should 
caution Tottie not to tell him anything about Eose- 
bud Cottage, he would be unable to get a word 
out of her. He therefore rose suddenly, staggered 
towards the child, and seized her haad. 

" Come, Tot, you and I shall go out for a walk." 

" Oh, Abel, don't. Dear Abel—" 

But dear Abel was gone, and his wife, clasping 
her hands, looked helplessly and hopelessly round 
the room. Then a gleam of light seemed to come 
into her eyes. She looked up and went down on 
her knees. 

Meanwhile Abel went into a public-house, and, 
calling for a pint of beer, bade his child drink, 
but Tottie declined. He swore with an oath that 
he 'd compel her to drink, but suddenly changed 
his mind and drank it himself 

"Now, Tot, tell father all about your visit to 
Miss Stivergill. She 's very rich — eh ? " 

" Oh ! awfully," replied Tottie, who felt an irre- 
sistible drawing to her father when he conde- 
scended to speak to her in kindly tones. 

" Keeps a carriage — eh ?" 

" No, nor a 'oss — not even a pony," returned the 
child. 

" An' no man-servant about the house V 

" No— not as I seed." 

" Not even a gardener, now ? " 



A tALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. l60 

"No, only women — two of 'em, and very nice 
tliey was too. One fat and short, the other tall and 
thin. I liked the fat one best." 

" Ha ! blessin's on 'em both," said Mr. Bones, 
with a bland smile. " Come now, Tot, tell me all 
about the cottage — inside first, the rooms and 
winders, an' specially the box of treasure. Then 
we '11 come to the garden, an' so w^e '11 get out by 
degrees to the fields and flowers. Go ahead, Tot." 

It need scarcely be said that Abel Bones soon 
possessed himself of all the information he required, 
after which he sent Tottie home to her mother, and 
went his way. 



170 POST HASTE : 



CHAPTEE Xlll. 

MISS LILLTCROP GETS A SERIES OF SURPRISES. 

What a world this is for plots ! And there is no 
escaping them. If we are not the originators of 
them, we are the victims — more or less. If we 
don't originate them designedly we do so accident- 

ally. 

"We have seen how Abel Bones set himself 
deliberately to hatch one plot. Let ns now turn to 
old Fred Blurt, and see how that invalid, with the 
help of his brother Enoch, unwittingly sowed the 
seeds of another. 

"Dear Enoch," said Ered one day, turning on 
his pillow, " I should have died but for you." 

" And Miss Lillycrop, Fred. Don't be ungrateful. 
If Miss Lillycrop had not come to my assistance, it's 
little I could have done for you." 

" Well, yes, I ought to have mentioned her in the 
same breath with yourself, Enoch, for she has been 
kind — very kind and patient. Now, I want to know 
if that snake has come." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY*S MAILS. 171 

* Are you sure you Ve recovered enough to attend 
to business V asked the brother. 

" Yes, quite sure. Besides, a snake is not business 
— it is pleasure. I mean to send it to my old friend 
Balls, who has been long anxious to get a specimen. 
I had asked a friend long ago to procure one for me, 
and now that it has come I want you to pack it to 
go by post." 

" By post !" echoed the brother. 

"Yes, why not?" 

" Because I fear that live snakes are prohibited 
articles." 

" Get the Post- Office Directory and see for your- 
self," said the invalid. 

The enormous volume, full six inches thick, which 
records the abodes and places of business of all note- 
worthy Londoners, was fetched. 

" Nothing about snakes here," said Enoch, running 
his eye over the paragraph referring to the articles 
in question, — "'Glass bottles, leeches, game, fish' 
(but that refers to dead ones, I suppose) 'flesh, 
fruit, vegetables, or other perishable substances' 
(a snake ain't perishable, at least not during a brief 
post-journey) — 'nor any bladder or other vessel 
containing liquid ' (ha ! that touches him : a 
snake contains blood, don't it?) — 'or anything 
whatsoever which might by pressure or otherwise 
be rendered injurious to the contents of the mail- 



172 t»0 ST HASTE i 

bags or to the officers of the Post-Office/ — Well, 
brother/' continued Enoch, " I 'm not quite sure that 
it comes within the forbidden degrees, so we 11 give 
it the benefit of the doubt and pack it. How d' you 
propose doing it up ? In a letter?" 

" No, I had a box made for it before I was taken 
ill. You '11 find it in the shop, on the upper shelf, 
beside the northern diver." 

The little box was brought, and the snake, which 
had been temporarily consigned to an empty glass 
aquarium, was put into it. 

" You 're sure he don't bite, Fred, and isn't 
poisonous ?" 

" Quite sure." 

" Then here goes — whew ! what a lively fellow he 
is!" 

This was indeed true. The animal, upwards of a 
yard in length, somewhat resembled the eel in his 
efforts to elude the grasp of man, but Mr. Blurt fixed 
him, coiled him firmly down on his bed of straw 
and wadding, pressed a similar bed on the top of 
him to keep him quiet, and shut the lid. 

" There ; I Ve got him in all right. Now for the 
screws. He can't move easily, and even if he could 
he wouldn't make much noise." 

The box was finally secured with a piece of string, 
a label with the address and the proper number of 
stamps was affixed, and then it was committed to 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 173 

the care of George Aspel to post, in time for the 
evening mail. 

It was five minutes to six when Aspel ascended 
the steps of St. Martin's -le- Grand. The usual rush 
was in progress. There was a considerable crowd 
in front of the letter-box. Instead of pushing 
through, George took advantage of his height, 
stretched his long arm over the heads of the people, 
and, with a good aim, pitched the box into the 
postal jaws. 

For a few seconds he stood still, meditating a call 
on Phil Maylands. But he was not now as eager to 
meet his friend as he used to be. He had begun a 
course of dissipation, and, superior though he was 
in years, physique, and knowledge to his friend, he 
felt a new and uncomfortable sense of inferiority 
when in the presence of the straightforward, steady 
boy. 

At seventeen a year adds much to the manhood 
of a youth. Phil's powers of perception had been 
greatly quickened by his residence in London. 
Although he regarded Aspel with as warm affection 
as ever, he could not avoid seeing the change for 
the worse in him, and a new feeling of deep anxiety 
and profound but respectful pity filled his heart. 
He prayed for him also, but did not quite believe 
that his prayers would be heard, for as yet he did 
not fully realise or comprehend the grand truths o£ 



174 POST HASTE : 

the religion in which his mother had faith full}? 
trained him. He did not at that time understand, 
as he afterwards came to understand, that the 
prayer of faith — however weak and fluttering — is 
surely answered, whether we see the answer (^r not, 
and whether the answer be immediate or long 
delayed. 

On one occasion, with feelings of timorous self- 
abasement, he ventured to remonstrate with his 
friend, but the effort was repelled. Possibly the 
thought of another reproof from Phil \\ as the cause 
of Aspel's decision not to look him up on the present 
occasion. 

As he descended the steps, a man as tall and 
powerful as himself met him and stared him in the 
face. Asp el fired up at once and returned the stare. 
It was Abel Bones, on his way to post a letter. The 
glare intensified, and for a moment it seemed as if 
the two giants were about to fight. A small street 
boy, observing the pair, was transfixed with ardent 
hope, but he was doomed to disappointment. Bones 
had clenched his right hand. If he had advanced 
another inch the blood of the sea-kings would have 
declared for war on the spot, regardless of con- 
sequences. But Bones was too old a bird thus 
to come within reach of his great enemy, the law. 
Besides, a deeper though not immediate plan of 
revenge flashed into his mind. Relaxing the 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 175 

hand and frown simultaneously, he held out the 
former. 

" Come," he said, in a hearty tone, " I don 't bear 
you no ill-will for the crack on the nut you gave 
me, and you 've surely no occasion to bear ill-will 
to a man you floored so neatly. Shake hands." 

The familiarity, not to say insolence, of this pro- 
posal, from one so much beneath him, would probably 
have induced the youth to turn aside with scorn, but 
the flattering reference to his pugilistic powers from 
one who w^as no mean antagonist softened his feelings. 

" Well, I 'm sure that I bear you no ill-will," he 
said, wdth a smile, extending his hand. 

" Bah ! chicken-livers," exclaimed the small boy, 
turning away in supreme contempt. 

" And I assure you," continued Aspel, " I had no 
intention of doing you injury. But no doubt a stout 
fellow like you didn't let a knock-down blow inter- 
fere wdtli his next d .y's work." 

"His next day's work !" repeated Mr. Bones, with 
a chuckle. " It would be a queer blow as would 
interfere with my work. Why, guv'nor, I hain't 
got no work at alL" Here he put on a very 
lugubrious expression. " P'r'aps you won't believe 
it, sir, but I do assure you that I haven't, in them 
hard times, had a full day's work for ever so long. 
And I haven't earned a rap this day, except the 
penny T got for postin' this here letter." 



1 76 POST HASTE : 

George Aspel, besides being, as we have said, a 
kind-hearted man, was unusually ignorant of the 
ways of the world, especially the world of London. 
He believed Abel Bones at once, and spoke in quite 
a softened, friendly tone as he replied^- 

" I 'm sorry to hear that, and would gladly help 
you if I could, but, to tell you the truth, Mr. Bones, 
I 'm not in flourishing circumstances myself Still, 
I may perhaps think of some way of helping you. 
Post your letter, and I '11 walk with you while we 
talk over it." 

The man ran up the steps, posted his letter, which 
had missed the mail — though he did not appear to 
care for that — and returned. 

Although we have spoken of this man as a con- 
firmed drunkard, it must not be supposed that 
he had reached the lowest state of degradation. 
Like George Aspel, he had descended from a higher 
level in the social scale. Of course, his language 
proved that he had never been in the rank of a 
gentleman, but in manners and appearance he was 
much above the unhappy outcasts amongst whom he 
dwelt. Moreover, he had scarcely reached middle 
life, and was, or had been, a handsome man, so that, 
when he chose to dress decently and put on 
a sanctimonious look (which he could do with 
much facility), he seemed quite a respectable 
personage. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 177 

"Now, guv'nor, I'm at your sarvice," he said. 
" This is my way. Is it yours ?" 

" Yes — any way wiU do," continued Aspel. " Now 
let me hear about you. I owe you some sort of 
reparation for that blow. Have you dined ? — will 
you eat ?" 

" Well, no ; thank 'ee all the same, but I 've no 
objection to drink." 

They chanced to be near a public-house as he 
spoke. It would be difficult in some thoroughfares 
of London to stop without chancing to be near a 
public-house ! 

They entered, and Aspel, resolving to treat the 
man handsomely, called for brandy and soda. It 
need scarcely be said that at that hour the brandy 
and soda was by no means the first of its kind that 
either of the men had imbibed that day. Over it 
they became extremely confidential and chatty. Mr. 
Bones was a lively and sensible fellow. It was 
noticeable, too, that his language improved and his 
demeanour became more respectful as the acquaint- 
ance progressed. After a time they rose. Aspel 
paid for the brandy and soda, and they left the place 
in company. 

Leaving them, we shall return to St. Martin's-le- 
Grand, and follow the footsteps of no less a person- 
age than Miss Lillycrop, for it so happened that that 
enthusiastic lady, having obtained _ permission tr> 

M 



178 POSTHASTE: 

view the interior of the Post- Office, had fixed on that 
evening for her visit. But we must go back a little 
in time — to that period when the postal jaws were 
about to open for the reception of the evening 
mail. 

Ever since Miss Lilly crop's visit to the abode of 
Solomon Flint, she had felt an increasing desire to 
see the inside and the working of that mighty 
engine of State about which she had heard so much. 
A permit had been procured for her, and her cousin, 
May Maylands, being off duty at that hour, was 
able to accompany her. 

They were handed over to the care of a polite 
and intelligent letter-sorter named Bright. The 
sorter seemed fully to appreciate and enter into Miss 
Lillycrop's spirit of inquiry. He led her and May 
to the inside — the throat, as it were — of those postal 
jaws, the exterior aspect of which we have already 
described. On the way thither they had to pass 
through part of the great letter- sorting hall. It 
seemed to Miss Lillycrop's excited imagination as 
if she had been suddenly plunged over head and 
ears into a very ocean of lettors. From that moment 
onwards, during her two hours' visit, she swam, as 
it were, among snowy billows of literature. 

" This is the receiving-box — the inside of it/' said 
Mr. Bright, as he led the way through a glass 
door into a species of closet or compartment about 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 179 

six feet by ten in dimension, or thereabouts, with 
a low roof. 

" This way, ladies. Stand here, on one side. 
They are just going to open it." 

The visitors saw in front of them a recess, divided 
by a partition, in which were two large baskets. A 
few letters were falling into these as they entered. 
Glancing upwards, they saw a long slit, through 
which a number of curious human eyes peeped for 
a moment, and disappeared, to be replaced by other 
eyes. Little spurts of letters came intermittently 
through the slit and fell into the baskets. These, 
when full, were seized by two attendants, dragged 
away, and replaced by empty ones. 

Suddenly the upper lip of the slit, or postal 
mouth, rose. 

" Oh, May, look !" exclaimed Miss Lilly crop 
eagerly. 

Not only the eyes but the heads and shoulders 
of the moving public now became visible to those 
inside, while the intermittent spurts became gradu- 
ally a continuous shower of letters. The full 
significance of the old superscription, " Haste, post 
haste, for thy life," now began to da;ivn on Miss 
Liliycrop. The hurry, mentioned elsewhere in our 
description of the outside view, increased as the 
minutes of grace flew by, and the visitors fairly 
laughed aloud when they saw the cataract of 



180 POSTHASTE: 

correspondence — the absolute waterfall, with, now 
and then, a bag or an entire bandboxful of letters, 
like a loosened boulder — that tumbled into the 
baskets below. 

From this letter-fall Miss Lillycrop was led, 
speechless, by her cicerone, followed by May, to 
whom the scene was not quite new, and whose chief 
enjoyment of it consisted in observing her inter- 
ested and excitable friend's surprise. 

Mr. Bright led them back to the great sorting- 
room, where the energetic labour of hundreds of 
men and boys — facing, carrying, stamping, distri- 
buting, sorting, etc. — was going on full swing. 
Everywhere there was rapid work, but no hurry ; 
busy and varied action, but no confusion ; a hum 
of mingled voice and footfall, but no unnecessary 
noise. It was a splendid example of the power of 
orderly and united action. To Miss Lillycrop it 
conveyed the idea of hopeless and irretrievable 
confusion ! 

Mounting a staircase, Mr. Bright conducted the 
ladies to a gallery from which they had a bird's-eye 
view of the entire hall. It was, in truth, a series of 
rooms, connected with the great central apartment 
by archways. Through thes& — extending away in 
far perspective, so that the busy workers in the dis- 
tance became like miniature men — could be seen 
rows on rows of facing and sorting tables, covered; 




INSIDE THE LETTER-BOX— Page 180. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 181 

heaped up, and almost hidden, by the snows of the 
evening mail. Here the chaos of letters, books, papers, 
etc., was being reduced to order — the whole under 
the superintendence of a watchful gentleman, on a 
raised platform in the centre, who took good care 
that England should not only expect, but also be 
assured, that every man and boy did his duty. 

Miss Lillycrop glanced at the clock opposite. It 
was a quarter to seven. 

" Do you mean to tell me," she said, turning full 
on Mr. Bright, and pointing downwards, " that that 
ocean of letters will be gone, and these tables 
emptied by eight o'clock ?" 

" Indeed I do, ma'am ; and more than what you 
see there, for the district bags have not all come in 
yet. By eight o'clock these tables will be as bare 
as the palm of my hand." 

Mr. Bright extended a large and manly palm by 
way of emphasising his remark. 

Miss Lillycrop was too polite to say, " That's 
a lie !" but she firmly, though mutely, declined to 
believe it. 

" D' you observe the tables just below us, ma'am ?" 

He pointed to what might have been six large 
board-room tables, surrounded by boys and men as 
close as they could stand. As, however, the tables 
in question were covered more than a foot deep 
with letters. Miss Lillycrop onl;f saw their legs. 



182 POST HASTE : 

"These are the facing tables" continued Mr. 
Bright. " All that the men and lads round 'em 
have got to do with the letters there is to arrange 
them for the stampers, with their backs and stamps 
all turned one way. We call that facing the letters. 
They have also to pick out and pitch into baskets, 
as you see, all book-packets, parcels, and news- 
papers that may have been posted by mistake in 
the letter-box." 

"While the sorter went on expounding matters, 
one of the tables had begun to show its wooden 
surface as its " faced " letters were being rapidly 
removed, but just then a man with a bag on his 
shoulder came up, sent a fresh cataract of letters on 
the blank spot, and re-covered it. Presently a 
stream of men with bags on their backs came ii 

" These are the district mails, ma'am," explained 
Mr. Bright ; " during the last half- hour and more 
they have been hurrying towards us from all quar- 
ters of London ; the nearest being brought by men 
on foot, the more distant bags by vans. Some are 
still on their way ; all will concentrate here at last, 
in time for sorting." 

The contents of these bags as they came in were 
shot out, and the facing-tables — all of which had 
begun to show symptoms of the flood going down 
and dry land appearing — were flooded and reflooded 
again and again to a greater depth than before. 



A TALE OF HKi; MAJESTY'S MAILS. 183 

" The mail will be late to-night," observed Miss 
Lilly crop, with an assured nod. 

" no, ma'am, it won't," replied Bright, with an 
easy smile, and May laughed as they returned to 
the hall to inspect the work in detail. 

" Here, you see, we stamp the letters." 

Mr. Bright stopped in front of a long table, at 
which was standing a row of stampers, who passed 
letters under the stamps with amazing rapidity. 
Each man or youth grasped a stamp, which was 
connected with a machine on a sort of universal 
joint. It was a miniature printing-machine, with a 
little inking-roUer, which was moved over the types 
each time by the mere process of stamping, so 
the stamper had only to pass the letters under the 
die with the one hand and stamp with the other as 
fast as he could. The rate varied, of course, con- 
siderably. Nervous and anxious stampers illustrated 
more or less the truth of the proverb, " The more 
hurry the less speed," while quiet, steady hands 
made good progress. They stamped on the average 
from 100 to 150 letters in the minute, each man. 

" You see, ma'am," remarked Mr. Bright, " it's the 
way all the world over : cool-headed men who know 
their powers alwaj^s get on best. The stamping - 
machine is a great improvement on the old system, 
where you had to strike the inker first, and then the 
letter. It just doubled the action and the time. 



184 POSTHASTE; 

We have another ingeniously contrived stamp in the 
office. It might not occur to you that stamping 
parcels and other articles of irregular shape is rather 
difficult, owing to the stamper not striking flatly on 
them. To obviate this, one of our own men invented 
a stamp with an indiarubber neck, so that, no matter 
how irregular the surface of the article may be, the 
face of the stamp is forced flat upon it by one 
blow." 

" When stamped," continued Mr. Bright, moving 
on, " the letters are taken by boys, as you see, to 
the sorters. You observe that each sorter has a com- 
partment or frame before him, with separate divisions 
in it for the great towns only, such as Manchester, 
Liverpool, Birmingham, Brighton, etc. Now, you 
know" — here he stopped and assumed an impressive 
explanatory tone — " you couldn't expect any single 
man to sort the letters for every town and village 
in the kingdom — could you, ma'am ?" 

Miss LiUycrop admitted that she could not indulge 
such an expectation, and further expressed her 
belief that any man who could must be little better 
than a lunatic. 

"But every man you see here," continued Mr. 
Bright, " has batch after batch of letters put before 
him, which may contain letters from anywhere to 
everywhere. So, you see, we subdivide the work. 
The sorters you are now looking at sort the letters 



A. TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 185 

tor the large towns into separate sections, and all 
the rest into divisions representing the various parts 
of the country, such as northern, southern, etc. 
The letters are then collected by the boys you see 
going up and down the hall." 

" I don't see them," interrupted Miss Lillycrop. 

" There, that 's a northern division boy who has 
just backed against you, ma'am." 

The boy referred to turned, apologised, and gather- 
incp the letters for the northern division from the 

o 

sorter at their elbow, moved on to gather more from 
others. 

"The division letters," continued Bright, "are 
then conveyed to other sorters, who subdivide them 
into roads, and then the final sorting takes place 
for the various towns. We have a staff of about a 
thousand sorters, assistant sorters, and boy sorters in 
this (Inland) office alone, who have been, or are 
being, carefully trained for the work. Some are 
smart, and some of course are slow. They are tested 
occasionally. When a sorter is tested he is given a 
pack of five hundred cards —dummies — to represent 
letters. A good man will sort these in thirteen or 
fifteen minutes. There are always sure to be a few 
mis-sorts, even in our well-regulated family — that 
is, letters sorted to the wrong sections or divisions. 
Forty mis-sorts in the five hundred is considered 
very bad work." 



186 POST HASTE : 

"But what if a sorter does not happen to Vnow 
the division to which any particular letter belongs V 
asked Miss Lillycrop. 

" He ought to know," replied her guide, " because 
all the sorters have to undergo a strict examination 
once a year as to their knowledge of towns and 
villages throughout England." 

" Indeed ! but/' persisted Miss Lillycrop, " what 
does he do with a letter if he chances to forget?" 
- " Why, he must get other sorters to help him." 

" And what happens if he finds a letter so badly 
addressed that he cannot read it ?" 

" Sends it to the blind division ; we shall come 
to that presently," said Mr. Bright. " Meanwhile 
we shall visit the hospital. I need scarcely ex- 
plain to you that the hospital is the place to which 
wounded letters and packages are taken to be healed. 
Here it is." 

The party now stood beside a table, at which 
several clerks — we might almost say surgeons — 
were at work, busy with sealing-wax and string. 

The patients were a wondrous lot, and told 
eloquently of human carelessness. Here were found 
letters containing articles that no envelope of mere 
paper could be expected to hold — such as bunches 
of heavy keys, articles of jewellery, etc., which had 
already more than half escaped from their co\ers. 
There were also frail card board boxes, so squeezed 



A TALE OF HER majesty's MAILS. 187 

and burst that their contents were protruding, and 
parcels containing worsted and articles of wearing 
apparel, which had been so carelessly put up as to 
have come undone in the mail-bags. All these 
things were being re-tied, re-folded, patched up here 
and there with sealing-wax, or put into new covers, 
by the postal surgeons, and done with as much care, 
too, as though the damage had been caused by the 
Post-Office rather than by carelessness in the public. 

But among these invalided articles were a few 
whose condition accidentally revealed attempts to 
contravene the postal laws. One letter which had 
burst completely open revealed a pill-box inside, 
with " Dinner Pills " on the outside. On examina- 
tion, the pills turned out to be two sixpences 
wrapped up in a scrap of paper, on which was 
written — " Thought you had no money to get a 
stamp with, so sent you some." It is contrary to 
regulations to send coin by post without registering 
the letter. The unfortunate receiver would have to 
pay eightpence, as a registration fee, for this shilling ! 

While the party was looking at the hospital work 
another case was discovered. A book packet came 
open and revealed a letter inside. But still further, 
the letter was found to contain sixpence in silver, sent 
to defray postage when the book should be returned. 
Here was a double sin ! "No letter, or writing of the 
nature of a letter, is allowed to go by book post, 



188 POSTHASTE: 

and coin may not be sent unregistered. In this 
case the book would be forwarded at letter-rate, and 
the 8d. registration fee would be charged for the 
coin — the whole amounting to 6s. 6d. 

" If the public would only attend," observed Mr. 
Bright, in commenting on these facts, "to the 
regulations laid down for their guidance by the 
Post- Office — as detailed in our Directories and 
Postal Guides — such errors would seldom occur, for 
I believe that things of this sort are the result of 
ignorance rather than dishonesty." 

" Now, ma'am," he continued, " we come to the 
blind officers." 

There were several of those gentlemen, whose 
title, we presume, was satirically expressive of the 
extraordinary sharpness of their eyes and intellects. 
They were seated at a table, engaged in examining 
addresses so illegible, so crabbed, so incomplete, and 
so ineffably ridiculous, that no man of ordinary 
mental capacity could make head or tail of them. 
All the principal London and Provincial Directories, 
Guides, and Gazetteers were ranged in front of the 
blind officers, to assist them in their arduous labours, 
and by the aid of these, and their own extensive 
knowledge of men and places, they managed to 
dispose of letters for which a stranger would think 
it impossible to find owners. 

" What would you make of that address, now?" 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 189 

said Mr. Bright, presenting a letter to Miss Lillycrop 
for inspection. 

" It looks like Cop — Cup — no — it begins with a 
C at all events. — What think you of it, May V said 
the puzzled lady. 

" It seems to me something like Captain Troller 
of Eittler Bunch," said May, laughing. " It is quite 
iUegible." 

" Not quitel' said one of the blind officers, with a 
smile. " It is — Comptroller of the Eeturned Letter 
Branch. Some one making inquiries, no doubt, 
after a lost letter addressed as badly as this one." 

Having looked at a few more of the letters that 
were then passing under examination, Mr. Bright 
showed them a book in which were copied fac- 
similes of addresses which had passed through the 
post. Some of these were pictorial — embracing 
quaint devices and caricatures, most of them in ink, 
and some in colours, all of which had been traced 
by a gentleman in the office with great skill. One 
that struck May as being very original was the 
representation of an artist painting the portrait of 
the Queen. Her Majesty was depicted as sitting 
for her portrait, and the canvas on the easel before 
which the artist stood was made the exact size of 
the postage-stamp. 

While the ladies were examining this book of 
literary curiosities, Mr. Bright took occasion to com - 



190 POSTHASTE: 

ment with pardonable pride on the working of the 
Post-Office. 

" You see, ma'am," he said, " we do our best for 
the public — ^though many of 'em have no idea of it. 
We don't send letters to the Eeturned Letter Branch 
till we've tried, as you see, to get the correct 
addresses, and until two separate letter-carriers have 
attempted to deliver them. After leaving the letter- 
carriers' hands, the address ot every undelivered 
letter, and the indorsement it bears, are carefully 
examined by a superior officer, who is held respon- 
sible for discovering any wrong treatment it may 
have undergone, and for having recourse to any 
further available means of finding the owner. It is 
considered better that the sender of a letter should 
know as soon as possible of its non- delivery, than 
that it should travel about with little prospect of its 
owner being found. We therefore send it to the 
Eeturned Branch without further delay, where it is 
carefully examined by a superior officer, to see that 
it has actually been presented as addressed, and that 
the reasons assigned for its non- delivery are suffi- 
cient. In doubtful cases the Directories and other 
books of reference in the branch are consulted, and 
should it be found that there has been any oversight 
or neglect, the letter is immediately reissued. 
After all has been done that can be to deliver such 
letters, they are opened, and returned the same day 



A TALE OP HEIl MAJESTY's MAILS. 191 

to tlie senders. If valuables are enclosed, the address 
and contents are recorded in case of inquiry. When 
senders fail to give their addresses, sometimes these 
are discovered by bills of exchange, cheques, or 
money- orders, which happen to be enclosed. When 
addresses of senders can be discovered by informa- 
tion on the outside of covers, the letters are returned 
without passing through the Eeturned Letter Branch, 
and are not opened. When all efforts have failed, 
and the letters do not contain property, they are not 
preserved." 

" Do many letters come into the Eeturned Letter 
Offices in this way?" asked Miss Lillycrop. 

"Ay; over the whole kingdom, including the 
letters sent direct to the senders last year, there were 
above four millions eight hundred thousand, and of 
these we managed to return nine-tenths to the 
writers, or re-issued them to corrected addresses." 

" Oh, indeed !" said Miss Lillycrop, utterly be- 
wildered. 

" A large proportion of the letters passing through 
this office," said Mr. Bright, " consists of circulars. 
An account of these was once taken, and the num- 
ber was found to be nearly twenty millions a year, 
and of these circulars it was ascertained that — " 

" Stop ! pray, sir, stop !" exclaimed Miss Lilly- 
crop, pressing her hand to her forehead ; "I am lost 
in admiration of your amazing memory, but I — T 



192 POSTHASTE: 

have no head for figures. Indeed, what I have 
already heard and seen in this place has produced 
such confusion in my poor brain that I cannot per- 
ceive any difference whatever between millions, 
billions, and trillions ! " 

" Well, come, we will continue our round," said 
Mr. Bright, laughing. 

Now, while all this was going on in the hall, 
there was a restive creature inside of a box which 
did not relish its confinement. This was Mr. Fred 
Blurt's snake. 

That sagacious animal discovered that there was 
a knot in the side of his pine- wood box. Now, knots 
are sometimes loose. Whether the snake found this 
out, and wrought at the knot intentionally, or forced 
it out accidentally during its struggles, we cannot 
tell, but certain it is that it got it out somehow, 
made its escape, and glided away into the darkest 
corner it could find. 

Meanwhile its box was treated after the manner 
of parcels, and put safely into one of the mail-bags. 

As the mass of letters began to diminish in bulk 
the snake began to feel uncomfortably exposed. At 
the same time Miss Lilly crop, with that wicked 
delight in evil prophecy which is peculiar to man- 
kind, began to feel comfortably exultant. 

"You see I was right!" she said to her guide, 
glancing at the clock, which now indicated ten 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 193 

minutes to eight ; "the confusion is almost as great 
as ever." 

" We shall see," replied Mr. Bright, quietly, as 
he led the way back to the gallery. 

From this point it could be seen, even by un- 
practised eyes, that, although the confusion of letters 
all over the place was still considerable, there were 
huge gaps on the sorting-tables everywhere, while 
the facing-tables were of course empty. There was 
a push and energy also which had not prevailed at 
first. Men seemed as though they really were in 
considerable haste. Letters were being bundled up 
and tied with string and thrust into bags, and the 
bags sealed with a degree of celerity that transfixed 
Miss Lillycrop and silenced her. A few minutes 
more and the tables were cleared. Another minute, 
and the bags were being carried out. Thirty red vans 
outside gaped to receive them. Eight o'clock struck, 
whips cracked, wheels rattled, the eight o'clock mail 
was gone, and there was not a single letter left in 
the great sorting-room of St. Martin's-le-Grand ! 

" I was right, you see," said Mr. Bright. 

"You were right," responded Miss Lillycrop. 

They descended and crossed the now unencum- 
bered floor. The snake took it into its mottled head 
at that moment to do the same. Miss Lillycrop sa\r 
it, shrieked, sprang to get out of its way, fell, and 
sprained her ankle ! 



194 POST HASTE : 

There was a rush of sorters, letter-carriers, boy- 
sorters, and messengers ; the snake was captured, 
and Miss Lillycrop was tenderly borne from the 
General Post- Office in a state of mental amazement 
and physical collapse. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 195 



CHAPTEE XIV. 

FORMATION OF THE PEGAWAT LITERARY ASSOCIATION 
AND OTHER MATTERS. 

Close to the residence of Solomon Flint there 
was a small outhouse or shed, which formed part of 
the letter-carrier's domain, hut was too small to be 
sub-let as a dwelling, and too inconveniently situated 
in a back court to be used as an apartment. It was 
therefore devoted to the reception of lumber. But 
Solomon, not being a rich man, did not possess 
much lumber. The shed was therefore compara- 
tively empty. 

When Philip Maylands came to reside with 
Solomon, he was allowed to use this shed as a 
workroom. 

Phil was by nature a universal genius — a Jack-of- 
all-trades — and formed an exception to that rule 
about being master of none, which is asserted, though 
not proved, by the proverb, for he became master of 
more than one trade in the course of his career. 
Solomon owned a few tools, so that carpentry was 



196 POSTHASTE: 

naturally his first attempt, and lie very soon became 
proficient in that. Then, having discovered an old 
clock among the lumber of the shed, he took to 
examining and cleaning its inoerior of an evening 
after his work at the Post-Office was done. As 
his mechanical powers developed, his genius for in- 
vention expanded, and soon he left the beaten 
tracks of knowledge and wandered into the less 
trodden regions of fancy. 

In all this Phil had an admirer and sympathiser 
in his sister May ; but May's engagements, both in 
and out of the sphere of her telegraphic labours, 
were numerous, so that the boy would have had to 
pursue his labours in solitude if it had not been for his 
friend Peter Pax, whose admiration for him knew no 
bounds, and who, if he could, would have followed 
Phil like his shadow. As often as the little fellow 
could manage to do so, he visited his friend in the 
shed, which they named Pegaway HalL There he 
sometimes assisted Phil, but more frequently held 
him in conversation, and commented in a free and 
easy way on his work, — for his admiration of Phil 
was not sufficient to restrain his innate insolence. 

One evening Pliil Maylands was seated at his 
table, busy with the works of an old watch. Little 
Pax sat on the table swinging his legs. He had 
brought a pipe with him, and would have smoked, 
but Phil sternly forbade it. 



197 



" It 's bad enough for men to fumigate their 
mouths," he said, with a smile on his lip and a 
frown in his eye, " but when I see a thing like you 
trying to make yourself look manly by smoking, I 
can't help thinking of a monkey putting on the boots 
and helmet of a Guardsman. The boots and helmet 
look grand, no doubt, but that makes the monkey 
seem all the more ridiculous. Your pipe suggests 
manhood. Pax, but you look much more like a 
monkey than a man when it 's in your mouth." 

" How severe you are to-night, Phil ! " returned 
Pax, putting the pipe, however, in his pocket; 
" where did you graduate, now — at Cambridge or 
Oxford ? Because w'en my eldest boy is big 
enough I'd like to send 'im w'ere he 'd acquire sitch 
an amazin' flow of eloquence." 

Phil continued to rub the works of the watch, but 
made no reply. 

" I say, Phil," observed the little fellow, after a 
thoughtful pause. 

"WeU?" 

"Don't it strike you, sometimes, that this is a 
queer sort of world ? " 

" Yes, I 've often thought that, and it has struck 
me, too, that you are one of the queerest fish in it." 

" Come, Phil, don't be cheeky. I 'm in a sedate 
frame of mind to-night, an' want to have a talk in 
a philosophical sort o' way of things in general." 



198 POST HASTE : 

"Well, Pax, go ahead. I happen to have been 
reading a good deal about things in general of late, 
so perhaps between us we may grind something out 
of a talk." 

" Just so ; them 's my ideas precisely. There 's 
nothin'," said Pax, thrusting both hands deeper 
into his trousers pockets, and swinging his legs more 
vigorously — "nothin like a free an' easy chat for 
developin' the mental powers. But I say, what a 
fellow you are for goin' ahead ! Seems to me that 
you 're always either workin' at queer contrivances 
or readin'." 

"You forget. Pax, that I sometimes carry tele- 
graphic messages." 

" Ha I true, then you and I are bound together 
by the cords of a common dooty — pVaps I should 
say an t^Ticommon dooty, all things considered." 

"Among other things," returned Phil, "I have 
found out by reading that there are two kinds of 
men in the world, the men who push and strive and 
strike out new ideas, and the men who jog along 
easy, on the let-be-for-let-be principle, and who 
grow very much like cabbages." 

" You 're right there, Phil — an' yet cabbages ain't 
bad vegetables in their way," remarked Pax, with a 
contemplative cast of his eyes to the ceiling. 

" Well," continued Phil gravely, " I shouldn't 
like to be a cabbage." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 199 

"Wich means," said the other, "that you'd 
rather be one o' tlie fellows who push an' strive an' 
strike out noo ideas." 

Phil admitted that such were his thoughts and 
aspirations. 

" Now, Pax," he said, laying down the tool with 
which he had been working, and looking earnestly 
into his little friend's face, ''something has been 
simmering in my mind for a considerable time past." 

"You'd better let it out then, Phil, for fear it 
should bust you," suggested Pax. 

" Come, now, stop chaffing for a little and listen, 
because I want your help," said Phil. 

There was something in Phil's look and manner 
when he was in earnest which effectually quelled 
the levity of his little admirer. The appeal to him 
for aid, also, had a sedative effect. As Phil went 
on. Pax became quite as serious as himself. This 
power of Pax to suddenly discard levity, and become 
interested, was indeed one of the qualities which 
rendered him powerfully attractive to his friend. 

" The fact is," continued Phil, " I have set my 
heart on forming a literary association among the 
telegraph boys." 

"A what?" 

" A literary association. That is, an association 
of those boys among us who want to read, and study, 
and discuss, and become knowing and wise." 



200 POST HASTE : 

The daring aspirations suggested by this proposi- 
tion were too much for little Pax. He remained 
silent — open mouthed and eyed — while Phil went 
on quietly to expound his plans. 

" There is a capital library, as you know, at the 
Post- Office, which is free to all of us, though many 
of us make little use of it — more 's the pity,— so 
that we don't require a library of our own, though 
we may come to that, too, some day, who knows ? 
Sure it wouldn't be the first time that great things 
had come out of small beGjinnincjs, if all I have read 
be true. But it 's not only books we would be after. 
What we want, Pax, is to be organised — made a 
body of. When we've got that done we shall 
soon put soul into the body, — what with debates, 
an' readings, an' lectures, an' maybe a soiree now 
and then, with music and speeches, to say nothing 
of tea an' cakes." 

As Phil Maylands warmed with his subject his 
friend became excited. He ceased to chaff and 
raise objections, and finally began to see the matter 
through Phil's rose-coloured glasses. 

" Capital," he exclaimed heartily. " It '11 do, 
Phil. It'll work — like everything else you put 
your hand to. But" — here his chubby little visage 
elongated — " how about funds ? Nothin' in this 
world gets along without funds ; an then we 've no 
place to meet in." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 201 

" We must content ourselves with funds of humour 
to begin with," returned Phil, resuming his work on 
the watch. '' As for a meeting-room, wouldn't this do ? 
Pegaway Hall is not a bad place, and quite enough 
room in it when the lumber 's cleared out o' the way. 
Then, as to members, we would only admit those 
who showed a strong desire to join us." 

" Just so — who showed literary tastes, like you 
an' me," suc^^^ested Pax. 

"Exactly so," said Phil, "for, you see, I don't 
want to have our society flourished about in the 
eyes of people as a public Post-Office affair. We 
must make it private and very select." 

" Yes, uncommon select," echoed Pax. 

" It would never do, you know," continued the 
other, "to let in every shallow young snipe that 
wanted to have a lark, and make game of the affair. 
We will make our rules very stringent." 

" Of course," murmured Pax, with a solemn look, 
" tremencloiisly stringent. For first offences of any 
kind — a sousin wdth dirty water. For second offences 
— a woppin' and a fine. For third — dismissal, with 
ears and noses chopped off, or such other mutilation 
as a committee of the house may invent. But, 
Phil, who d'yee think would be suitable men to 
make members of?" 

" Well, let me see," said Phil, again laying down 
his tools, and looking at the floor with a thoughtful 



202 POST HASTE : 

air, "there's Long Poker, he's a long-legged, good- 
hearted fellow — fond o' the newspapers." 

" Yes," put in Pax, " Poker 11 do for one. He 'd 
be a capital member. Long and thin as a literary 
c'racter ought to be, and pliable too. We could 
make a'most anything of him, except a fire-screen 
or a tablecloth. Then there's Big Jack — he's got 
strong sedate habits." 

" Too fond of punning," objected Phil. 

" A little punishment in the mutilation way would 
stop that," said Pax. 

"And there 's Jim Brown," rejoined Phil. " He 's 
a steady, enthusiastic fellow ; and little Grigs, he 's 
about as impudent as yourself, Pax. Strange, isn't 
it, that it 's chiefly little fellows who are impudent ?" 

"Wouldn't it be strange if it were otherwise?" 
retorted Pax, with an injured look. " As we can't 
knock people down with our fists, aren't we justified 
in knockin' 'em down with our tongues?" 

" Then," continued Phil, " there 's George Granger 
and Macnab — " 

" Ah ! ain't he the boy for argufyin' too?" inter- 
rupted Pax, " and he 11 meet his match in Sandy 
Tod. And there 's Tom Blunter—" 

" And Jim Scroggins — " 

" An' Limp Letherby— " 

"AuTat Collins— " 

" An' Bobby Sprat. Oh I" exclaimed Pax, with a 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 203 

glowing countenance, " we 've got lots o' first-rate 
men among the message-boys, though there are 
some uncommon bad 'uns. But we'll have none 
except true-blues in our literary association." 

The society thus planned was soon called into 
being, for Philip Maylands was one of those deter- 
mined characters who carry their plans into execu- 
tion with vigour and despatch. His first move was 
to seek counsel of Mr. Sterling, a city missionary — 
the same who had directed George Aspel to the 
abode of Abel Bones on the night of that youth's 
visit to Archangel Court, — with whom he had 
become acquainted on one of his visits to Miss 
Lillycrop. That good lady was a staunch ally and 
able assistant of many city missionaries, and did 
much service in the way of bringing them into 
acquaintance with people who she thought might 
be helpful to them, or get help from them. A 
mutual liking had sprung up between Mr. Antony 
Sterling and Phil on that occasion, which had 
ripened into friendship. 

" You'll help us at our first meeting, won't you ?" 
asked Phil, after they had talked the matter over. 

" Yes, if you wish it," replied Mr. Sterling. " But 
I won't come at the beginning. I '11 drop in to'^ards 
the close, and won't say much. You'd best begin 
the work by yourselves. I'll come to your aid 
whenever you seem to require it. But have a care 



204 POST HASTE : 

how you start, Phil. Whatever the other members 
may do, remember that you, as the originator of the 
association, are bound to lay the foundations with 
the blessing of God." 

Phil did not neglect this all-important point, and, 
having obtained permission from Solomon Flint to 
use the shed, the society was soon auspiciously 
commenced with a lively debate, in Pegaway Hall, 
as to the best method of conducting its own affairs. 
On this occasion Philip Maylands proved himself 
to be an able organiser. Long Poker showed that 
he had not dabbled in newspapers without fishing 
up and retaining a vast amount of miscellaneous 
knowledge. Jim Brown roused the meeting to a 
pitch of enthusiasm almost equal to his own. Little 
Grigs made stinging remarks all round, and chaffed 
little Pax with evident delight. Macnab disputed 
with everybody. Sandy Tod argued and objected 
more or less to everything, while Tom Blunter, Jim 
Scroggins, Limp Letherby, Pat Collins, and Bobby 
Sprat, lent more or less effectual fire to the debate. 
Big Jack did not speak much. He preferred, as he 
said, to form a large audience, but, if he might be 
permitted to offer an opinion, would suggest that 
less talk and more action might facilitate the 
despatch of business, and that they ought to try to 
emulate the House of Commons by allowing a little 
common sense to mingle with their discussions. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 205 

As for Peter Pax, he assumed the rdh of peace- 
maker-general. When the debaters seemed to be 
Cfettincr too warm, he rose to order ; and, in a calm 
dignified manner, commented on the conduct of the 
disputants "with such ineffable insolence as to draw 
down their wrath on his devoted head — to the great 
delight of the other members. Thus he threw oil 
on the troubled waters, and, generally, kept the 
meeting lively. 

Finally, the laws of the Pegaway Literary Associa- 
tion were fixed, the plan of meetings was arranged, 
and the whole thing fairly started. 

The society worked well for a time, but after the 
various members had done their best, as Pax said, 
to keep the pot boiling, it was felt and suggested 
that they should seek a little aid from without. A 
reading or a lecture was proposed, seconded, and 
carried. Then came the question who should be 
asked to read or lecture. Macnab proposed that 
their chairman should endeavour to procure a 
lecturer, and report to next meeting. Sandy Tod 
objected, and proposed a committee to consider the 
subject. Phil May lands said he had anticipated 
the demand, and had already secured the promise 
of a lecturer — if the members chose to accept him. 

" Name ! name ! " cried several voices. 

" Our excellent landlord, Solomon Flint," said 
Phil. "You all know his admirable powers of 



206 POST HASTE : 

memory, and his profound knowledge of men and 
things (' At least if you don't, you ought to/ from 
Pax), and you may be sure he'll give us something 
good." 

" And proverbial," added little Grigs. 

" Ay, Flint will certainly strike fire out of what- 
ever he tackles," said Big Jack. 

(" Order 1" from Pax.) 

'' When is he to give it ?" asked one. 

"Won't fix the time just yet," said Phil 

" What's his subject ?" asked another. 

" Can't say ; not yet decided." 

With this uncertainty as to time and subject the 
association was obliged to rest content, and there- 
after the meeting was dissolved. 

We are grieved to be obliged to state that the 
society thus hopefully commenced came to a prema- 
ture close at an early period of its career, owing to 
circumstances over which its members had no 
control. 

Some time before that sad event occurred, however, 
Solomon Plint delivered his discourse, and as some 
of the events of that memorable evening had special 
bearing on the issues of our tale, we shall recur to it 
in a succeeding chapter. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 207 



CHAPTEE XV. 

GEORGE ASPEL RECEIVES VARIOUS VISITORS AT THE ORNITHO- 
LOGICAL SHOP, AND IS CALLED TO VKJOROUS ACTION. 

As long as a man retains a scrap of self-respect, 
and struggles, from any motive whatever, against his 
evil tendencies, his journey to destr"^'^--^'" 
paratively slow ; but when once h( 
despair, assumes that he has tried 1: 
and throws the reins on the neck ^. ^^o jjassions, 
his descent into the dark abyss is terribly rapid. 

For a time George Aspel was buoyed up by hope. 
He hoped that May Maylands might yet come to 
regard him with favour, though she studiously 
avoided giving him ground for such hope. He also 
continued, though faintly, to hope that Sir James 
Clubley might still think of fulfilling his promises, 
and, in pursuance of that hope, frequently inquired 
whether any letters had been left for him at the 
hotel where he first put up on arriving in London. 
But when both of these hopes forsook him, and he 
found himself in what he deemed the ridiculous 



208 POST HASTE : 

position of shopman to a bird-stuff er, without an 
influential friend in the great city, or the slightest 
prospect of improving his condition, he gave way to 
despair. 

Before quite giving way, however, he made 
several attempts to obtain work more suited to his 
tastes and acquirements, in which efforts he was 
heartily seconded by Mr. Enoch Blurt ; but Enoch 
was about as unknown in London as himself, so that 
their united efforts failed. 

In these circumstances the ambitious youth began 
to regard himself as a martyr to misfortune, and 
resolved to enjoy himself as he best might. With 
a view to this he spent his evenings in places of 
amusement, with companions whose example and 
influence helped to drag him down and increase his 
tendency to drink. 

This tendency was in part hereditary. His 
father had been a confirmed drinker. Alth ugh 
well aware of this, he did not believe in his own 
fallibility. Few young men of his stamp do. Other 
men might give way to it, but there was no fear of 
him. He admitted that he could, and sometimes 
did, take a stiff glass of grog — but what then ? It 
did him no harm. He was not a slave to it. He 
could give it up and do without it if he chose — 
although, it is to be remarked, he had never made 
the trial, and only assumed this power. To be 



A TALE OF IIEK MAJESTY'S MAILS. 2U9 

rather " screwed " now and then was, he admitted, 
somewhat discreditable ; but he wasn't worse than 
many others, and it didn't occur often. Thus he 
reasoned, half-justifying himself in a thoroughly 
selfish, sinful course ; growling at his " bad luck," 
and charging the guilt of his sin, which he said he 
couldn't help, on Fate — in other words, on God. 

It never occurred to George Aspel that the true 
way to get out of his troubles was to commit his 
way to his Maker ; to accept the position assigned 
him ; to do the work of a faithful servant therein ; 
to get connected with good society through the 
medium of churches and young men's Christian as- 
sociations, and to spend a few years in establishing a 
character for trustworthiness, capacity, vigour, and 
intelligence, which would secure his advancement in 
life. At least, if such thoughts did occur to him, he 
refused to entertain them, and resolved to fling care 
to the dogs and defy fortune. 

Of course, it soon became apparent to his em- 
ployer that there was a great change for the worse in 
the youth, whom he not only admired for his frank 
bearing and strapping appearance, but loved as his 
deliverer from death. Delicacy of feeling, however, 
prevented Mr. Blurt from alluding to dissipations at 
which he could only guess. 

Poverty and distress bring about strange com- 
panionships. When Aspel first arrived in London he 





210 POST HASTE r 

would have scouted the idea of his having anything 
whatever to do with such a man as Abel Bones, but 
he had not proceeded far in his downward course 
when that disreputable character became, if not a 
companion, at least an acquaintance. 

This state of things was brought about primarily 
by the patronage which Aspel had extended to the 
"poor worthless fellow" whom he had so unceremoni- 
ously knocked down. But the poor worthless fellow, 
although born in a lower rank of life, was quite 
equal to him in natural mental power, and much 
superior in cunning and villainy. Mr. Bones had 
also a bold, reckless air and nature, which were 
attractive to this descendant of the sea-kings. 
Moreover, he possessed a power of mingling flattery 
with humbug in a way that made his victim fall 
rather easily into his toils. 

Eevenge, as we have said, lay at the bottom of 
Abel Bones' desire to become better acquainted with 
Aspel, but profit soon took the place of revenge. 
Mr. Bones earned his livelihood chiefly by appro- 
priatmg what belonged to other people. He was 
not particular as to what he took, or how he took it, 
but on the whole preferred easy work (like most 
people) and large profit. Being a man of bold, 
ambitious views, he had often thought of forgery, 
but a neglected education stood in the way of that. 
Being also a man of resource, he did ru^t doubt that 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 211 

this, like many other difficulties, would ere long 
succumb to his perseverance. While in this frame 
of mind it occurred to him that he might make a tool 
of his new acquaintance and would-be patron. At 
tlie same time he had penetration enough to perceive 
that his intended tool was a dangerous instrument, 
highly-tempered and sharp-set, with a will of its 
own, not yet quite demoralised, and not by any 
means to be played with. 

It might be tedious to trace the steps and winding 
ways by which Abel Bones led his victim from one 
piece of impropriety to another — always concealing 
his real character, and playing the role of an un- 
fortunate man, willing to work, but unable to find 
employment — until he almost had him in his toils. 

" It 's of no use your dancing attendance on me 
any longer, Bones," said Aspel one day, as the former 
appeared at the door of the ornithological shop. " I 
have all the will to help you, but I have not the 
power. My friends have failed me, and I can do no 
more than keep my own soul in my body. You 
must look to some one else with more influence than 
I possess." 

" That 's a bad job, sir," returned Bones, with a 
downcast look. " I 've bin down at the docks all 
day, an' earned only enough to get a plate of bacon 
and beans. Surely there 's somethin' wrong when 
a cove that 's willin' to work must starve ; and 



212 POSTHASTE: 

there 's my wife and child starvin' too. Seems to 
me that a cove is justified in stealin' in the cir- 
cumstances." 

He cast a sidelong glance at Aspel. It was the 
first time he had ventured to suggest dishonest in- 
tentions. If they should be taken ill, he could turn 
it off as a jest ; if taken well, he could proceed. 

" I 'm very sorry for you. Bones," said Aspel, not 
noticing the hint, " very sorry, but what can I do ? 
I have not a copper left beyond what I absolutely 
require." 

" Well, sir, I know that you can do nothing, but 
now that my wife and child are actually starvin', I 
really don't see the sin of helpin' myself to a loaf at 
the nearest baker's, and giving him leg-bail for it." 

" Nothing justifies stealing," said Aspel. 

"D'ee think not, sir ?" said Bones. " If you saw 
your wife now, supposin' you had one, at the pint of 
death with hunger, an' you saw a loaf lyin' as didn't 
belong to you, would you let her die ?" 

Aspel thought of May Maylands. 

" I don't know," he replied, " what I should do. 
All that I say is, that stealing is unjustifiable." 

The argument was stopped at this point by the 
entrance of a small telegraph message-boy. 

Bones was startled by his sudden entrance. 

" Well, good-night, sir, we 'U talk that matter 
over some other time," he said quickly, pulling his 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 213 

wideawake well over his face as he went out, and 
giving the message-boy a prolonged stare. 

The boy paid no regard to him, but, turning to 
Aspel, introduced himself as Peter Pax. 

" What ! the comrade-in-arms of my friend Phil 
Maylands?" asked Aspel. 

" The same, at your service," replied the small 
messenger; " an' if you are the friend he talks to me 
so much about, as goes by the name of George Aspel, 
an' is descended in a direct line from the old sea- 
kings, I'm proud to make your acquaintance." 

Aspel laughed at the consummate self-possession 
of the boy, and shaking hands with him heartily as 
a comrade of their common friend Phil, bade him 
take a seat, which he immediately did on the 
counter. 

" You're surrounded by pleasant company here," 
observed Pax, gazing intently at the pelican of the 
wilderness. 

" Well, yes ; but it 's rather silent company," said 
Aspel. 

" Did that fellow, now," continued Pax, pointing 
to the owl, " die of surprise ?" 

" Perhaps he did, but I wasn't present at his 
death," returned the other. 

" Well, now, I do like this sort o* thing." 

Little Pax said this with such genuine feeling, 
and looked round him with such obvious interest 



214 POSTHASTE: 

tliat Aspel; with some surprise, asked him why he 
liked it. 

" Why ? because from my earliest years I always 
was fond of animals. 'No matter what sort they wos, 
I liked 'em all — birds an^ beasts an' fishes, flyers and 
creepers, an' squeakers and flutterers," said the boy, 
clasping both hands over one knee, and rocking him- 
self to and fro on the counter, while he gazed into 
the owl's face with the air of one whose mind is 
rambling far away into the remote past. 

" Once on a time," he continued, sadly, " I dwelt 
in the country. I was born in the country. I 'm a 
sort o' country gentleman by nature, so to speak, 
and would have bin revellin' in the country to this 
day if a perwerse fate hadn't driven me into the 
town — a very perwerse fate indeed." 

" Indeed ?" said Aspel, unable to restrain a laugh 
at his visitor's old-fashioned ways, " what sort of 
fate was it ? " 

" A perwerse one, didn't I tell you ?" 

" Yes, but wherein consisted its perversity ? How 
did it act, you know ?" 

" Ah, its perwersity consisted in drivin' me into 
town in a market-cart," said Pax. " You must 
know that my perwerse fate was a uncle. He was 
a big brute. I don't mean to speak of 'im disre- 
spectfully. I merely give 'im his proper name. He 
was a market-gardener and kept cows — also a pump. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 215 

He had a wife and child — a little girl. Ah! a 
sweet child it was." 

" Indeed," said Aspel, as the boy relapsed into a 
silent contemplative gaze at the pelican. 

"Yes," resumed Pax, with a sigh, "it ims a child, 
that was. Her name was Mariar, but we called 'er 
Merry. Her father's name — the Brute's, you know 
— was Blackadder, and a blacker adder don't wriggle 
its slimy way through filthy slums nowhere — sup- 
posin' him to be yet unscragged, for he was uncom- 
mon hard on his wife — that's my Aunt Georgie. 
Her name was Georgianna. I wonder how it is that 
people never give people their right names ! Well, 
Mr. Aspel, you must know I was nuss to baby. An 
amytoor nuss I was — got no pay for it, but a con- 
siderable allowance o' kicks from the Brute, who 
wasn't fond o' me, as I 'd done 'im a mortal injury, 
somehow, by being his defunct brother's orphan 
child. You understand ?" 

George Aspel having professed a thorough com- 
prehension of these family relationships, little Pax 
went on. 

" Well then, bein' nuss to Merry, I used to take 
'er out long walks in the fields among the flowers, 
an' I was used to catch butterflies and beetles for 
'er, an' brought 'em home an' stuck pins through 
'em an' made c'lections ; an' oh, I did like to scuttle 
about the green lanes an' chase the cows, an' roll on 



216 POSTHASTE: 

the grass in the sunshine with Merry, an* tear an 
bu'st my trousers, for w'ich I got spanked by the 
Brute, but didn't care a rap, because that brought 
me double allowance o' coddlin' from Aunt Georgie. 
One day the Brute drove me into town in the 
market-cart ; set me down in the middle of a street, 
and drove away, an' I haven't seen him, nor Aunt 
Georgie, nor Merry from that day to this." 

"Dear me!" exclaimed George Aspel, rather 
shocked at this sudden and unexpected termination 
of the narrative ; '* do you mean to say — " 

" It strikes me," interrupted Pax, looking pointedly 
at the door, " that you 've got another visitor." 

Aspel turned and saw the dishevelled curls and 
pretty face of Tottie Bones in the doorway. 

" Please, sir," she said, entering, " I didn't like to 
interrupt you, but Miss Lillycrop sent me to say 
that there was a strange smell of singein' in the 
'ouse, an' would Mr. Aspel be so kind as to come 
and try to find out where it was, as she didn't 
understand such things." 

" Smell of singeing, child !" exclaimed Aspel, 
rising at once and putting on his coat and hat 
"Did you search for the cause, especially about 
your kitchen fireplace ?" 

"0 yes, sir," exclaimed Tottie, "an* we couldn't 
see no cause at all — only the flue seemed to be 
'otter than usual. We looked all over the 'ouse too, 



A TALE OF IIER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 217 

but couldn't see iiothink — but we could feel a most 
drefful smell." 

Desiring Mrs. Murridge to call Mr. Blurt to attend 
to the shop, George Aspel hurried out. 

"Don't try to keep up with us," said Aspel to 
Tottie ; " I must run. It may be fire !" 

" Oh ! please, sir, don't leave me behind," pleaded 
the child. 

" All right — we won't ; kitch hold of my hand ; 
give the other to Mr. Aspel," said Peter Pax. 

Holding on to her two friends, Tottie was swept 
along the streets at a rate which she had never 
before experienced — at least not as a foot-passenger, 
— and in a few minutes they were in Miss Lilly- 
crop's dwelling. 

That excellent lady was in a state of dreadful 
perturbation, gife well she might be, for the house 
was filled with a thin smoke of very peculiar 
odour. 

Few persons except the initiated are fully alive 
to the immense importance of checking fire at its 
commencement. The smoke, although not dense 
enough to attract the attention of people outside, 
was sufficiently so to make those inside commence 
an anxious search, when they should have sent at 
once for the fire-engine. 

Three families occupied the tenement. Miss 
Lilly crop's portion was at the top. A dealer in oils 



218 POSTHASTE: 

and stores of a miscellaneous and unsavoury kind 
occupied the basement. 

George Aspel at once suspected and made for 
this point, followed by Miss Lillycrop, who bade 
Tottie remain in her kitchen, with the intention of 
keeping her at once out of danger and out of the way. 

" There 's certainly fire somewhere, Pax ; run, 
call the engines out/' said Aspel, descending three 
steps at a time. 

Pax took the last six steps at a bound, and 
rushed along the street, overturning in his flight two 
boys bigger than himself, and a wheelbarrow. 

The owner of the cellars was absent and his door 
locked. Where was the key ? No one knew, but 
George Aspel knew of a key that had done some 
service in times past. He retreated a few steps, 
and, rushing at the door with all his weight ^nd 
momentum, dashed it in with a tremendous crash, 
and went headlong into the cellar, from out of which 
came belching flames and smoke. Ee-issuing in- 
stantly therefrom with singed hair and glaring eyes, 
he found Miss Lillycrop lying on her back in a 
faint, where the fire and smoke had floored her. To 
gather her up and dash into the street was the work 
of a moment. Scarcely less rapid was the rush of 
the fire, which, having been richly fed and long pent 
up in the cellar, now dashed up the staircases like 
a giant refreshed. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 219 

Meanwhile little Pax ran headlong into a police- 
man, and was collared and throttled. 

" Now then, young 'iin ! " 

" Fire ! station !" gasped Pax. 

"All right, this way — ^jiist round the corner," 
said the man in blue, releasing his captive, and 
running along with him ; but the man in blue was 
stout, middle-aged, and heavy. Pax outran him, 
saw the red lamp, found the fire-station door open, 
and leaped through with a yell of "Fire!'' that 
nearly split his little lungs. 

The personification of calmness in the form of a 
fireman rose and demanded "Where?" 

Before Pax could gasp the address, two other 
personifications of calmness, who had been snoring 
on trestle-beds, dressed and booted, when he entered, 
now moved swiftly out, axed and helmeted. 
There was a clattering of hoofs outside. The 
double doors flew open, and the red engine rolled 
out almost of its own accord. More brass helmets 
were seen flashing outside. 

" Are you sure of the address, youngster V* asked 
one of the imperturbable firemen, settling his chin- 
strap more comfortably. 

" Are you sure o' your own grandmother ?" said 
Pax. 

" You 're cheeky," replied the man, with a smile. 

" You make haste," retorted Pax ; " three minutes 



220 POST HASTE : 

allowed to get under weigh. Two and a half gone 
already. Two-and-six fine if late, besides a — " 

The whip cracked, and Pax, leaping forward, 
seized the side of the engine. Six brass helmets 
bounded into the air, and their owners settled on 
their seats, as the horses made that momentary- 
pause and semi-rear which often precedes a dashing 
start. The man whom he had been insulting held 
out a hand ; Pax seized it, and was next moment 
in a terrestrial heaven, while calmness personified 
sauntered into the back office to make a note of the 
circumstance, and resume his pipe. 

Oh ! it was a brief but maddening ride. To ex- 
perience such a magnificent rush seemed to Pax 
worth living for. It was not more than half-a-mile ; 
but in that brief space there were three corners 
to turn like zigzag lightning, which they did 
chiefly on the two near wheels, and there were carts, 
vans, cabs, drays, apple-stalls, children, dogs, and 
cats innumerable. To have run over or upset these 
would have been small gratification to the com- 
paratively tender spirit of Pax, but to shave them ; 
to graze the apple-stalls ; to just scrape a lamp-post 
with your heart in your mouth ; to hear the 
tremendous roar of the firemen ; to see the abject 
terror of some people, the excitement of others, 
the obedient " skedaddling " of all, while the sparks 
from the pump -boiler trailed behind, and the two 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 221 

bull's-eyes glared ahead, so that the engine re- 
sembled some awful monster rushing through thick 
and thin, and waving in triumph its fiery tail — ah ! 
words are but feeble exponents of thought : it was 
excruciating ecstasy ! To have been born for this 
one burst, and died, would have been better than 
never to have been born at all, — in the estimation 
of the enthusiastic Peter Pax ! 

A few minutes after George Aspel had borne 
the fainting Miss Lillycrop from the house the 
engine arrived. Some of the men swarmed into 
the house, and dived to the basement, as if fire 
and smoke were their natural food. Others got 
the engine to work in a few seconds, but already 
the flames had rushed into the lower rooms and 
passages and licked away the windows. The thick 
stream of water had just begun to descend on the 
fire, when another engine came rattling to the field, 
and its brazen-headed warriors leaped down to join 
the battle. 

" Oh ! " groaned Miss Lillycrop at that moment, 
recovering in Aspel's arms. " Oh ! Tottie — 
To-o-o-o-tie's in the kitchen !" 

Little Pax heard and understood. In one 
moment he bounded through the blazing doorway 
and up the smoking stair. 

Just then the fire-escape came into view, tower- 
ing up against the black sky. 



222 fOST HASTE : 

" Hold her, some one !" cried Aspel, dropping his 
poor burden into the ready arms of a policeman. 

" The boy 's lost ! " he exclaimed, leaping after 
Pax. 

Aspel was a practised diver. Many a time had 
he tried his powers under the Atlantic waves on 
the west of Ireland. He drew one long breath, and 
was in the attic kitchen before it was expended. 
Here he found little Pax and Tottie on the floor. 
The former had fallen, suffocated, in the act of 
hauling the latter along by the hair of the head. 
Aspel did not see them. He stumbled over them, 
grasped both in his strong arms, and bore them to 
the staircase. It was by that time a roaring 
furnace. His power of retaining breath was ex- 
hausted. In desperation he turned sharp to the 
right, and dashed in Miss LiUycrop's drawing-room 
door, just as the fire-escape performed the same 
feat on one of the windows. The gush of air drove 
back the smoke for one moment. Gasping and reel- 
ing to the window, Aspel hurled the children into 
the bag of the escape. He retained sufficient power 
to plunge in head first after them and ram them 
down its throat. All three arrived at the bottom in 
a state of insensibility. 

In this state they were borne to a neighbouring 
house, and soon restored to consciousness. 

The firemen battled there during the greater part 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 223 

of that night, and finally gained the victory ; but, 
before this happy consummation was attained, poor 
Miss Lillycrop's home was gutted and her little 
property reduced to ashes. 

In these circumstances she and her little maid 
found a friend in need in Miss Stivergill, and an 
asylum in Eosebud Cottage. 



224 POST HASTE 



CHAPTEE XVI. 

BEGINS WITH JUVENILE FLIliTATION, AND ENDS WITH 
CANINE CREMATION. 

The disreputable nature of the wind which blov/s 
good to nobody has been so frequently referred to 
and commented on by writers in general that it 
merits only passing notice here. The particular 
breeze which fanned the flames that consumed the 
property that belonged to Miss Lillycrop, and drove 
that lady to a charming retreat in the country, 
thereby rescuing her from a trying existence in town, 
also blew small Peter Pax in the same direction. 

" Boy," said Miss Stivergill in stern tones, on the 
occasion of her first visit to the hospital in which 
Pax was laid up for a short time after his adventure, 
" you 're a good boy. I like you. The first of your 
sex I ever said that to." 

" Thank you, ma'am. I hope I shan't be the last," 
returned Pax languidly, for he was still weak from 
the effects of the partial roasting and suffocation he 
had undepgone. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS, 225 

" Miss Lillycrop desired me to come and see you," 
resumed Miss Stiveriiill. *' She has tokl me how 
bravely you tried to rescue poor little Bones, who — " 

" Not much hurt, I hope ?" asked the boy eagerly. 

" No, very little — scarcely at all, I 'm glad to say. 
Those inexplicable creatures called firemen, who 
seem to me what you may call fire-fiends of a good- 
aatured and recklessly hilarious type, say that her 
having fallen down with her nose close to the 
ground, where there is usually a free current of air, 
saved her. At all events she is saved, and quite 
well." 

" I hope I didn't haul much of the hair out of 
her poor head ?" said Pax. 

" Apparently not, if one may judge from the very 
large quantity that remains," replied his visitor. 

"You see, ma'am, in neck- or-no thin' scrimmages 
o' that sort," continued Pax, in the off-hand tone 
of one much experienced in such scrimmages, 
'• one can't well stop to pick and choose ; besides, 
I couldn't see w^ell, d'ee see ? an' her hair came 
first to hand, you know, an' was convenient. It 's 
well for both on us, however, that that six foot 
odd o' magnificence came to the rescue in time. 1 
like 'im, I do, an' shall owe 'im a good turn for 
savin' little Bones. — What was her other name, did 
you say, ma'am ?" 

" I didn't mention any other name, but I believe 
p 



22 G POST HASTE : 

it is Tottie. — Now, little Peter, when the doctor 
gives you leave to be moved, you are to come to me 
to recruit your health in the country." 

"Thank you, ma'am. You're too good," said 
Pax, becoming languid again. " Pray give my best 
respects to Tottie and Miss Lillycrop." 

" So small, and so pretty, and such a wise little 
thing," murmured Miss Stivergill, unaware, appar- 
ently, that she soliloquised aloud. 

" So big, and so ugly, and such a good-hearted 
stoopid old thing ! " murmured Pax ; but it is only 
just to add that he was too polite to allow the 
murmur to be heard. 

" Good-bye, little Peter, till we meet again," said 
Miss Stivergill, turning away abruptly. 

" Farewell, ma'am," said Pax, " farewell ; and it 
for ever — " 

He stopped, because his visitor was gone. 

According to this arrangement. Pax found himself, 
not many days after, revelling in the enjoyment of 
what he styled " tooral-ooral " felicity — among cows 
and hay, sunshine and milk, buttercups and cream, 
green meadows and blue skies, — free as a butterfly 
from telegraphic messagery and other postal cares. 
He was allowed to ramble about at will, and, as little 
Bones was supposed to be slightly invalided by her 
late semi- suffocation, she was frequently allowed 
by her indulgent mistress to accompany him. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 227 

Seated on a stile one day, Pax drew Tottie out 
as to her early life, and afterwards gave an account 
of his own in exchange. 

" How strange," said Tottie, " that you and I 
should both have had bybies to nuss w'en we was 
young, ain't it?" 

" It is, Tot— very remarkable. And we Ve had a 
sad fate, both of us, in havin' bin wrenched from 
our babbies. But the wrench couldn't have bin so 
bad in your case as in mine, of course, for your 
babby was nobody to you, whereas mine was a full 
cousin, an' such a dear one too. Oh, Tot, you 've 
no notion what splendid games we used to have, 
an' such c'lections of things I used to make for 'er ! 
Of course she was too young to understand it, you 
know, for she could neither walk nor speak, and I 
don't think could understand, though she crowed 
sometimes as if she did. My ! how she crowed ! 
—But what's the matter, Tot ?" 

Tottie was pouting. 

" I don t like your bybie at all — not one bit," she 
said emphatically. 

"Not like my babby !" exclaimed Pax. 

" No, I don't, 'cause it isn't 'alf so good as mine." 

" Well," returned Pax, with a smile, " I was took 
from mine. I didn't forsake it like you." 

"I diclnt forsake it," cried Tottie, with flashing 
eyes, and shaking her thick curls indignantly — 



228 POST HASTE : 

which latter, by the way, since her coming under 
the stern influence of Miss Stivergill, had been 
disentangled, and hung about her like a golden 
glory. — " I left it to go to service, and mother takes 
care of it till I return home. I won't speak to you 
any more. I hate your bybie, and I adore mine !" 

So saying, little Bones jumped up and ran away. 
Small Pax made no attempt to stop her or to follow. 
He was too much taken aback by the sudden burst 
of passion to be able for more than a prolonged 
whistle, followed by a still more prolonged stare. 
Thereafter he sauntered away slowly, ruminating, 
perhaps, on the fickle character of woman, even in 
her undeveloped stages. 

Tottie climbed hastily over a stile and turned 
into a green lane, where she meant to give full vent 
to her feelings in a satisfactory cry, when she was 
met face to face by Mr. Abel Bones. 

" Why, father !" she exclaimed, running to her 
sire with a look of joyful surprise, for occasional bad 
treatment had failed to dry up the bottomless well 
of love in her little heart. 

" Hush ! Tottie ; there — take my hand, an' don't 
kick up such a row. You needn't look so scared at 
seein' me here. I 'm fond o' the country, you know, 
an' I 've come out to 'ave a little walk and a little 
talk with you. — Who was that you was talkin' with 
just now ?" 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 229 

Tottie told him. 

" Stoppin' here, I s'pose ?" 

" Yes. He 's bin here for some time, but goes 
away soon — now that he 's better. It was him as 
saved my life — at least him and Mr. Aspel, you 
know." 

" No, I don't know, Tot. Let 's hear all about it," 
replied Mr. Bones, with a look of unwonted gravity. 

Tottie went off at once into a glowing account of 
the fire and the rescue, to which her father listened 
with profound attention, not unmingied with sur- 
prise. Then he reverted to the aspect of the sur- 
rounding country. 

" It 's a pretty place you live in here. Tot, an' a 
nice house. It's there the lady lives, I suppose •# 
who has the strange fancy to keep her wealth in a 
box on the side-board? Well, it is curious, but 
there's no accountin' for the fancies o' the rich, 
Tot. An' you say she keeps no men-servants about 
her? Well, that's wise, for men are dangerous 
characters for women to 'ave about 'em. She's 
quite right. There 's a dear little dog too, she keeps, 
I 'm told. Is that the only one she owns ?" 

" Yes, it 's the only one, and such a darlin' it is, 
and so fond of me !" exclaimed Tottie. 

" Ah, yes, wery small, but wery noisy an' vicious," 
remarked Mr. Bones, with a sudden scowl, which 
fortunately his daughter did not see. 



230 POST HASTi: : 

" no, father ; little Floppart ain't vicious, 
though it is awful noisy w'en it chooses." 

" Well, Tot, I 'd give a good deal to see that dear 
little Floppart, and make friends with it. D' you 
think you could manage to get it to follow you 
here?" 

" Oh, easily. I '11 run an' fetch it ; but p'r'aps 
you had better come to the house. I know they'd 
like to see you, for they 're so kind to me." 

Mr. Bones laughed sarcastically, and expressed 
his belief that they wouldn't like to see him at all. 

Just at that moment Miss Stivergill came round 
the turn of the lane and confronted them. 

" Well, little Bones, whom have you here ?" asked 
the lady, with a stern look at Mr. Bones. 

" Please, ma'am, it's father. He 'appened to be 
in this neighbourhood, and came to see me." 

" Your father !" exclaimed Miss Stivergill, with a 
look of surprise. " Indeed !" 

" Yes, ma'am," said Bones, politely taking off his 
hat and looking her coolly in the face. " I 'ope it's 
no offence, but I came a bit out o' my way to see 
'er. She says you 've bin' wery kind to her." 

" Well, she says the truth. I mean to be kind 
to her," returned Miss Stivergill, as sternly as before. 
— " Take your father to the cottage, child, and tell 
them to give him a glass of beer. If you see Miss 
Lillycrop, tell her I've gone to the village, and won't 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 231 

be back for an hour." So saying, Miss Stivergill 
walked down the lane with masculine strides, 
leaving Tottie pleased, and her father smiling. 

"I don't want no beer, Tot," said the latter. 
" But you go to the cottage and fetch me that dear 
little dog. T want to see it ; and don't forget the 
lady's message to Miss Lillycrop — but be sure you 
don't say I'm waitin' for you. Don't mention me 
to nobody. D'ee understand?" 

Poor Tottie, with a slight and undefined misgiving 
at her heart, professed to understand, and went 
off. 

In a few minutes she returned with the little dog 
— a lively poodle — which at first sho\A'ed violent 
and unmistakable objections to being friendly with 
Mr. Bones. But a scrap of meat, which that worthy 
had brought in his pocket, and a few soothing 
words, soon modified the objection. 

Presently Mr. Bones puUed a small muzzle from 
his pocket. 

" D' you think, now, that Floppart would let you 
put it on 'er. Tot ?" 

Tot was sure she would, and soon had the muzzle 
on. 

" That 's right ; now, hold 'er fast a moment — 
just a — there — ! " 

He sprang at and caught the dog by the throat, 
choked a snarling yelp in the bud, and held it fast. 



232 POST HASTE ; 

" Dear, d-ear, how wild it has got all of a sudden ! 
W'y, it must be ill — p'raps mad. It's well you put 
that muzzle on, Tot." 

While he spoke Abel Bones thrust the dog into 
one of the capacious pockets of his coat. 

" JSTow, Tot," he said, somewhat sternly, " I durstn't 
let this dog go. It wants a doctor very bad. You 
go back to the 'ouse and tell 'em a man said so. 
Yoa needn't say what man ; call me a philanthropist 
if you choose, an' tell 'em I'll send it back w'en it 
recovers. But you needn't tell 'em anything until 
you 're axed, you know — it might get me into trouble, 
d'ee see, an' say to Miss Stivergill it wasn't your 
father as took the dosj, but another man." 

He leaped over a low part of the hedge and was 
gone, leaving poor Tottie in a state of bewildered 
anxiety on the other side. 

Under the influence of fear Tottie told the lies 
her father had bid her tell, and thereafter dwelt at 
Eosebud Cottage with an evil conscience and a 
heavy heart. 

Having gained the high-road, ]\Ir. Bones sauntered 
easily to the railway station, took a third-class 
ticket for Charing Cross, and in due time found him- 
self passing along the Strand. In the course of that 
journey poor little Floppart lay on its back in the 
bottom of its captor's pocket, with a finger and 
thumb gently pressing her windpipe. Whenever 



A TxVLE OF HER INLUESTY's MATLR. 233 

she iDecame restive, the finger and thumb tightened, 
and this with such unvarying regularity that she 
soon came to understand the advantage of lying 
still. She did, however, make sundry attempts to 
escape — once very violently, when the guard was 
opening the carriage- door to let Mr. Bones enter, 
and again almost as violently at Charing Cross, when 
Mr. Bones got out. Indeed, the dog had wellnigh 
got off, and was restored to its former place and 
position with difficulty. 

Turning into Chancery Lane, and crossing over to 
Holborn, Abel Bones continued his way to Newgate, 
where, appropriately enough, he stopped and gazed 
grimly up at the massive walls. 

" Don't be in a 'urry," said a very small boy, with 
dirt and daring in equal proportions on his face, 
" it '11 wait for you." 

Mr. Bones made a tremendous demonstration of 
an intention to rush at the boy, who precipitately 
fied, and the former passed quietly on. 

At St. Martin's-le- Grand he paused again. 

" Strange," he muttered, " there seems to be some 
sort o' fate as links me wi' that Post- Office. It 
was here I began my London life as a porter, and 
lost my situation because the Postmaster-General 
couldn't see the propriety of my opening letters that 
contained coin and postage- stamps and fi'-pun' notes, 
which was quite unreasonable, for I had a special 



234 " t>OST HASTE : 

talent that way^ and even the clargy tell us that 
our talents was given us to be used. It wasn't far 
from here where I sot my little nephy down, that 
time I got rid of him, and it was goin' up these wery 
steps I met with the man I 'm tryin' my best to 
bring to grief, an' that same man wants to marry 
one of the girls in the Post-0 ffice, and now, I find, 
has saved my Tot from bein' burnt alive ! Wery 
odd ! It was here, too, that — " 

rioppart at this moment turned the flow ot his 
meditations by making a final and desperate struggle 
to be free. She shot out of his pocket and dropped 
with a bursting yell on the pavement. Eecovering 
her feet before Bones recovered from his surprise, 
she fled. Thought is quick as the lightning-flash. 
Bones knew that dogs find their way home mysteri- 
ously from any distance. He knew himself to be 
unable to run down Floppart. He saw his schemes 
thwarted. He adopted a mean device, shouted 
" Mad dog !" and rushed after it. A small errand- 
boy shrieked with glee, flung his basket at it, and 
followed up the chase. Floppart took round by St. 
Paul's Churchyard. However sane she might have 
been at starting, it is certain that she was mad with 
terror in five minutes. She threaded her way among 
wheels and legs at full speed in perfect safety. It 
was afterwards estimated that seventeen cabmen, 
four gentlemen, two apple- women, three and- twenty 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. I'^S 

errand-boys — more or less, — and one policeman, 
flung umbrellas, sticks, baskets, and various missiles 
at her, with the effect of damaging innumerable 
shins and overturning many individuals, but without 
hurting a hair of Floppart's body during her wild 
but brief career. Bones did not wish to recapture 
her. He wished her dead, and for that end loudly 
reiterated the calumny as to madness. Floppart 
circled round the grand cathedral erected by Wren, 
and got into Cheapside. Here, doubling like a 
hare, she careered round the statue of Peel and 
went blindly back to St. Martin's-le-Grand, as if 
to add yet another link to the chain of fate which 
bound her arch-pursuer to the General Post-Office. 
By way of completing the chain, she turned in at 
the gate, rushed to the rear of the building, dashed 
in at an open door, and skurried along a passage. 
Here the crowd was stayed, but the policeman fol- 
lowed heroically. The passage was cut short by a 
glass door, but a narrow staircase descended to the 
left. " Any port in a storm " is a proverb as well 
known among dogs as men. Down went Floppart to 
the basement of the building, invading the sanctity 
of the letter-carriers' kitchen or salle-d-manger. 
A dozen stalwart postmen leaped from their meals 
to rush at the intruder. In the midst of the con- 
fusion the policeman's truncheon was seen to sway 
aloft. Next instant the vaulted roof rang with a 



236 POST HASTE : 

terrible cry, which truth compels us to state was 
Floppart's dying yell. 

None of those who had begun the chase were in 
at the death — save the policeman, — not even Abel 
Bones, for that worthy did not by any means court 
publicity. Besides, he felt pretty sure that his end 
was gained. He remembered, no doubt, the rule of 
the Office, that no letters or other things that have 
been posted can be returned to the sender, and, 
having seen the dog safely posted, he went home 
with a relieved mind. 

Meanwhile the policeman took the remains of 
poor Floppart by the tail, holding it at arm's-length 
for fear of the deadly poison supposed to be on its 
lips, and left the kitchen by a long passage. The 
men of the Post-Office returned to their food and- 
their duties. Those who manage the details of her 
Majesty's mails cannot afford to waste time when on 
duty. The policeman, left to himself, lost himself 
in the labyrinth of the basement. He made his way 
at last into the warm and agreeable room in which 
are kept the boilers that drive the engine that works 
the lifts. He was accosted by a stalwart stoker, 
whose appearance and air were as genial as the 
atmosphere of his apartment. 

" Hallo !" said he, " what 'ave you got there ?" 

" A mad dog," answered the policeman. — " I say, 
stoker,have you any ashpit where I could bury him?" 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 237 

" Couldn't allow 'im burial in our ashpit," replied 
tlie stoker, with a decided shake of the head ; " alto- 
gether out of- the question/' 

The policeman looked at the dead dog and at the 
stoker with a perplexed air. 

" I say, look here," he said, " couldn't we — ah — 
don't you think that we might — " 

He paused, and cast a furtive glance at the 
furnaces. 

" ^Vllat ! you don't mean — cremate *im ? " 

The policeman nodded. 

" Well, now, I don't know that it's actooally against 
the rules of the G.P.O.," replied the stoker, with a 
meditative frown, " but it seems to me a raither 
unconstitootional proceedin'. It's out o' the way 
of our usual line of business, but — " 

" That 's right," said the policeman, as the stoker, 
who was an obliging man, took up a great shovel 
and flung open the furnace-door. 

A terrific glare of intense heat and light shot out, 
appearing as if desirous of licking the stoker and 
policeman into its dreadful embrace. 

" I don't half like it," said the stoker, glancing in ; 
" the Postmaster- General might object, you know." 

" Not a bit of it, he 's too much of a gentleman to 
object — come," said the policeman encouragingly. 

The stoker held up the shovel. The body of 
Floppart was put thereon, after the removal of its 



238 POST HASTE : 

collar. There was one good swing of the shovel, 
followed by a heave, and the little dog fell into the 
heart of the fiery furnace. The stoker shut the great 
iron door with a clang, and looked at the police- 
man solemnly. The policeman returned the look, 
thanked him, and retired. In less probably than 
three minutes Floppart's body was reduced to its 
gaseous elements, vomited forth from the furnace 
chimney, and finally dissipated by the winds of 
heaven. 

Thus did this, the first recorded and authentic 
case of cremation in the United Kingdom, emanate — 
as many a new, advantageous, and national measure 
has emanated before — from the prolific womb of the 
General Post-OfQce, 



A TALE OF IIEE >'AJESTV'S .MAILS. 239 



CHAPTEE XVIL 

TOTTIE AND MRS. BONES IN DIFFICULTY. 

The descent of George Aspel became very rapid in 
course of time. As he lost self-respect he became reck- 
less and, as a natural consequence, more dissipated. 
Remonstrances from his friend Mr. Blurt, which 
were repelled at first with haughty disdain, came to 
be received with sullen indifference. He had no- 
thing to say for himself in reply, because, in point 
of fact, there was nothing in his case to justify his 
taking so gloomy and despairing a view of life. 
Many men. he knew, were at his age out of 
employment, and many more had been crossed 
in love. He was too proud to condescend to false 
reasoning with his lips, though he encouraged it in 
his heart. He knew quite well that drink and bad 
companionship were ruining him, and off-hand, open- 
hearted fellow though he was said to be, he was mean 
enough, as we have ah^eady said, to growlingly 
charge his condition and his sins on Fate. 

At last he resolved to give up the business that 



240 POSTHASTE: 

was so distasteful to him. Unable to give a satis- 
factory reason for so doing, or to say what he meant 
to attempt next, and unwilling or ashamed to incur 
the remonstrances and rebut the arguments of his 
patron, the bold descendant of the sea-kings adopted 
that cowardly method of departure called taking 
French leave. Like some little schoolboy, he ran 
away ! In other words, he disappeared, and left no 
trace behind him. 

Deep was Mr. Enoch Blurt's regret, for he loved 
the youth sincerely, and made many fruitless efforts 
to find him — for lost in London means lost indeed ! 
He even employed a detective, but the grave man 
in grey — who looked like no class of man in par- 
ticular, and seemed to have no particular business 
in hand, and who talked with Mr. Blurt, at their 
first meeting, in a quiet, sensible, easy way, as 
though he had been one of his oldest friends — could 
find no clew to him, for the good reason that Mr. 
Bones had taken special care to entice Aspel into 
a distant locality, under pretence of putting him in 
the way of finding semi-nautical employment about 
the docks. Moreover, he managed to make Aspel 
drunk, and arranged with boon companions to strip 
him, while in that condition, of his garments, and 
re-clothe him in the seedy garb peculiar to those 
gentlemen who live by their wits. 

''Very strange," muttered Aspel, on recovering 



A TALK OF ilKK MAJKSTY's MAILS. 1^41 

sufficiently to be led by his friend towards Arch- 
angel Court, — "very strange that I did not feel 
the scoundrels robbing me. I must have slept very 
soundly." 

" Yes, you slep* wery sound, and they 're a bad 
lot, and uncommon sharp in that neighbourhood. 
It's quite celebrated. I tried to get you away, but 
you was as obstinate as a mule, an' kep' on singing 
about some sort o' coves o' the old times that must 
have bin bigger blackguards than we 'ave about us 
now- a days, though the song calls *em glorious." 

"Well, well," said Aspel, shrinking under the 
public gaze as he passed through the streets, " don't 
talk about that. Couldn't you get into some by- 
lanes, where there are not so many people? I 
don't like to be seen, even by strangers, in this 
disreputable guise. I wish the sun didn't shine 
so brightly. Come, push on, man." 

" W'y, sir," said Bones, becoming a little more 
respectful in spite of himself, " you 've no need to 
be ashamed of your appearance. There 's not 'alf 
a dozen people in a mile walk in London as would 
look twice at you whatever appearance you cut— so 
long as it was only disreputable." 

" Never mind — push on," said Aspel sternly ; " I 
am ashamed whether I have need to be or not. T 'm 
a fool. I 'm more — I 'm a brute. I tell you what 
it is, Bones, I 'm determined to turn over a new leaf. 

Q 



2 42 POST HASTI^: • 

I '11 write to Mr. Blurt and tell him where 1 am, 
for, of course, I can't return to him in such clothes 
as these, and — and — I '11 give up drink." 

Bones met this remark with an imexpected and 
bitter laugh. 

"What d'you mean?" demanded Aspel, turning 
fiercely upon him. 

" I mean," replied Bones, returning his stare with 
the utmost coolness, " that you can't give up drink, 
if you was to try ever so much. You 're too far gone 
in it. I 've tried it myself, many a time, and failed, 
though I 've about as strong a will as your own — 
maybe stronger." 

" We shall see," returned Aspel, as they moved 
on again and turned into the lane which led to the 
wretched abode of Bones. 

"Bring me pen, ink, and paper!" he exclaimed, 
on entering the room, with a grand air — for a pint 
of ale, recently taken, had begun to operate. 

Bones, falling in with his friend's humour, rum- 
maged about until he found the stump of a quill, a 
penny inkbottle, and a dirty sheet of paper. These 
he placed on a rickety table, and Aspel wrote a 
scrawly note, in which he gave himself very bad 
names, and begged Mr. Blurt to come and see him, 
as he had got into a scrape, and could by no means 
see liis way out of it. Having folded the note 
very badly, he rose with the intention of going 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 243 

out to post it, but his friend offered to post it for 
him. 

Accepting the offer, he handed him the note and 
flung himself down in a heap on the straw mattress 
in the dark corner, where he had first become 
acquainted with Bones. In a few seconds he was 
in a deep lethargic slumber. 

" What a wretched spectacle !" exclaimed Bones, 
touching him with his toe, and, in bitter mockery, 
quoting the words that Aspel had once used regard- 
ing himself. 

He turned to leave the room, and was met by 
Mrs. Bones. 

" There 's a friend o' yours in the corner, Molly. 
Don't disturb him. I 'm goin' to post a letter for 
him, and will be back directly." 

Bones went out, posted the letter in the common 
sewer, and returned home. 

During the brief interval of his absence Tottie 
had come in — on a visit after her prolonged sojourn 
in the country. She was strangling her mother 
with a kiss when he entered. 

"Oh, mother! I'm so happy, and so sorry!" she 
exclaimed, laughing and sobbing at once. 

Tottie was obviously torn by conflicting emotions. 

"Take your time, darling," said Mrs. Bones, 
smoothing the child's hair with her red toil-worn 
hand. 



244 POST HASTE : 

" Ay, take it easy, Tot/' said her father, with a 
meaning glance, that sent a chill to the child's heart, 
while he sat down on a stool and began to fill his 
pipe. " What 's it all about ?" 

" Oh ! it 's the beautiful country I Ve been in. 
Mother, you can't think — the green fields and the 
trees, and, oh ! the flowers, and no bricks — almost 
no houses — and — But did you know" — her grief 
recurred here — " that Mr. Aspel 'as bin lost ? an' 
I 've been tellin' such lies ! We came in to town. Miss 
Lillycrop an' me, and we 've heard about Mr. Aspel 
from old Mr. Blurt, who 's tryin' to find him out 
with 'vertisements in the papers an' detectives an' a 
message-boy they call Phil, who 's a friend of Mr. 
Aspel, an' also of Peter." 

" Who 's Peter ? " asked Mrs. Bones. 

"Ah, who's Peter?" echoed Mr. Bones, with a 
somewhat sly glance under his brows. 

" He 's a message-boy, and such a dear fellow," 
replied Tottie. " I don't know his other name, he 
didn't mention it, and they only call him little Peter, 
but he saved me from the fire ; at least he tried — " 

" Saved you from the fire !" exclaimed Mrs, Bones 
in amazement. 

"Yes; didn't Miss Lillycrop tell you?" asked 
Tottie in no less surprise. 

Now it is but justice to Miss Lillycrop to say 
that even in the midst of her perturbation after the 



A TALE OF HRR MAJESTY'S MAILS. 245 

fire slie sought to inform Mrs. Bones of her child's 
safety, and sent her a note, which failed to reach her, 
owing to her being away at the time on one of her 
prolonged absences from home, and the neighbour to 
whose care it had been committed had forgotten all 
about it. As Mrs. Bones read no newspapers and 
took no interest in fires, she knew nothing about 
the one that had so nearly swallowed up Tottie. 

" Come, tell us all about it. Tot. You mentioned 
it to me, but we couldn't go into details at the time," 
said her father, puffing a vigorous cloud of smoke 
into the chimney. 

Nothing loath, the child gave her parents an ac- 
count of the event, which was as glowing as the fire 
itself. As she dwelt with peculiar delight on the 
brave rescue effected by Aspel at the extreme peril 
of his life, conscience took Abel Bones by surprise 
and gave him a twinge. 

At that moment the sleeper in the corner heaved 
a deep sigh and turned round towards the light. 
Mrs. Bones and the child recognised him at once, 
and half rose. 

"Keep still !" said Bones, in a low savage growl, 
which was but too familiar to his poor wife and 
child. " Now, look here," he continued in the same 
voice, laying down his^pipe, — " if either of you two 
tell man, woman, or child w'ere George Aspel is, 
it '11 be the death of you both, and of him too." 



246 POST HASTE : 

" Oh, Abel ! Don't be hard on us/' pleaded his 
wife. " You would — no, you carCt mean to do 'im 
harm !" 

"No, I won't hurt him," said Bones, "but you 
must both give me your word that you '11 make no 
mention of him or his whereabouts to any one till 
I give you leave." 

They were obliged to promise, and Bones, know- 
ing from experience that he could trust them, was 
satisfied. 

" But you '11 make a promise to me too, Abel, 
won't you, dear ? " said Mrs. Bones ; " you '11 promise 
not to do 'im harm of any kind — not to tempt 'im ?" 

"Yes, Molly, I promise that." 

Mrs. Bones knew, by some peculiarity in the tone 
of her husband's voice, that he meant what he said, 
and was also satisfied. 

''Now, Molly," said Bones, with a smile, "1 
want you to write a letter for me, so get another 
sheet of paper, if you can ; Mr. Aspel used up my 
last one." 

A sheet was procured from a neighbouring tobac- 
conist. Mrs. Bones always acted as her husband's 
amanuensis (although he wrote very much better 
than she did), either because he was lazy, or because 
he entertained some fear of his handwriting being 
recognised by his enemies the police ! Squaring 
her elbows, and with her head very much on one 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 247 

side — almost reposing on the left arm — Mrs. Bones 
produced a series of hieroglyphics which might have 
been made by a fly half drowned in ink attempting 
to recover itself on the paper. The letter ran as 
follows : — 

"Deer bil i amagoin to dooit on mundy the 15th 
tother cove wont wurk besides Iv chaningd my mind 
about him. dont fale." 

" What 's the address, Abel ? ' asked Mrs. Bones. 

" Willum Stiggs," replied her husband. 

" So — i — g — s," said Mrs. Bones, writing very 
slowly, " Eosebud Cottage." 

" What !" exclaimed the man fiercely, as he 
started up. 

" Oh, I declare ! " said Mrs. Bones, with a laugh, 
"if that place that Tottie's been tellin' us of ain't 
runnin' in my 'ead. But I 've not writ it, Abel, I 
only said it." 

" Well, then, don't say it again," growled Bones, 
with a suspicious glance at his wife; " write number 
6 Little Alley, Birmingham." 

" So — numr sx littlaly bringinghum," said Mrs. 
Bones, completing her task with a sigh. 

When Bones went out to post this curious epistle, 
his wife took Tottie on her knee, and, embracing 
her, rocked to and fro, uttering a moaning sound. 
The child expressed anxiety, and tried to comfort 
her. 



248 POST HASTE : 

" Come what 's the use o' strivin' against it ?" 
she exclaimed suddenly. " She 's sure to come to 
know it in the end, and I need advice from some 
one — if it was even from a child." 

Tottie listened with suspense and some anxiety. 

" You 've often told me, mother, that the best 
advice comes from God. So has Miss Lillycrop." 

Mrs. Bones clasped the child still closer, and 
uttered a short, fervent cry for help. 

" Tottie," she said, " listen — you 're old enough 
to understand, I think. Your father is a bad man 
— at least, I won't say he's altogether bad, but — 
but, he 's not good." 

Tottie quite understood that, but said that she 
was fond of him notwithstandincr. 

"Fond of 'im, child!" cried Mrs. Bones, "that's 
the difficulty. I 'm so fond of 'im that I want to 
save him, but I don't know how." 

Hereupon the poor woman explained her difficul- 
ties. She had heard her husband murmuring in 
his sleep something about committing a burglary, 
and the words Eosebud Cottage had more than once 
escaped his lips. 

"^tTow, Tottie dear," said Mrs. Bones firmly, 
'' when I heard you tell all about that Eosebud Cot- 
tage, an' the treasure Miss Stiffinthegills — '* 

** Stiver oill, mother." 

" Well, Stivergill. It ain't a pretty'name, which- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 2 19 

ever way you put it. When I heard of the treasure 
she 's so foolish as to keep on her sideboard, I felt 
sure that your father had made up his mind to rob 
Miss Stivergill — with the help of that bad man Bill 
Stiggs — all the more w'en I see how your father 
jumped w'en I mentioned Eosebud Cottage. Now, 
Tottie, we must save your father. If he had only 
got me to post his letter, I could easily have 
damaged the address so as no one could read it. As 
it is, I 've writ it so bad that I don't believe there 's 
a man in the Post-OiOfice could make it out. This 
is the first time, Tottie, that your father has made 
up his mind to break into a 'ouse, but when he do 
make up his mind to a thing he 's sure to go through 
with it. He must be stopped, Tottie, somehow — 
must be stopped — but I don't see how." 

Tottie, who was greatly impressed with the 
anxious determination of her mother, and therefore 
with the heinous nature of her father's intended sin, 
gave her entire mind to this subject, and, after talk- 
ing it over, and looking at it in all lights, came to 
the conclusion that she could not see her way out 
of the difficulty at all. 

While the two sat gazing on the ground with 
dejected countenances, a gleam of light seemed to 
shoot from Tottie's eyes. 

" Oh ! I 've got it !" she cried, looking brightly 
up. "Peter!" 



250 POST HASTE : 

" What ! the boy you met at Rosebud Cottage ?" 
asked Mrs. Bones. 

" Yes. He 's such a nice boy, and you 've no idea, 
mother, what a inventor he is. He could invent 
anythink, I do believe — if he tried, and I 'm sure 
he '11 think of some way to help us." 

Mrs. Bones was not nearly so hopeful as her 
daughter in regard to Peter, but as she could think 
of nothing herself, it was agreed that Tottie should 
go at once to the Post-Office and inquire after Peter. 
She did so, and returned crestfallen with the news 
that Peter was away on a holiday until the follow- 
ing Monday. 

"Why, that's the 15th," said Mrs. Bones anxi- 
ously. " You must see him that day, Tottie dear, 
though I fear it will be too late. How did you find 
him out ? There must be many Peters among the 
telegraph boys." 

" To be sure there are, but there are not many 
Peters who have helped to save a little girl from a 
fire, you know," said Tottie, with a knowing look. 
* They knew who I wanted at once, and his other 
name is such a funny one ; it is Pax — " 

"What?" exclaimed Mrs. Bones, with a sudden 
look of surprise. 

" Pax, mother ; Peter Pax." 

Whatever Mrs, Bones might have replied to this 



A TALE OF HEK MAJESTY'S MAILS. 251 

was checked by the entrance of her husband. She 
cautioned Tottie, in earnest, hurried tones, to say 
nothing about Eosebud Cottage unless asked, and 
especially to make no mention whatever of the 
name of Pax. 



252 POSTHASTE: 



CHAPTEE XYITI. 

BUSINESS INTERFERED WITH IN A REMARKABLE M.iNNER. 

The modest estimate which Mrs. Bones had 
formed of her penmanship turned out to be erro- 
neous, and her opinion that there was not a man in 
the Post- Office able to read it was ill-founded. She 
was evidently ignorant of the powers and intelli- 
gence of the Blind Division. 

To make this more plain we will follow the 
letter. You and I, reader, will post ourselves, as it 
were, and pass through the General Post- Office un- 
stamped. At a few minutes to six p.m. the mouth 
is wide enough to admit us bodily. Mr. Bones has 
just put in his epistle and walked away with the 
air of a man who feels that he has committed him- 
self, and is " in for it." He might have posted it at 
an office or a pillar nearer home, but he has an idea, 
founded no doubt on experience, that people, espe- 
cially policemen, are apt to watch his movements 
and prefers a longish walk to the General. 

; 6 



A TALE OF HEll MAJESTY'S MAILS. 253 

There ! we take a header and descend with the 
cataract into the basket. On emerging in the great 
sorting-room, somehow, we catch sight of the Bones 
epistle at once. There is no mistaking it. We 
should know its dirty appearance and awry folding 
— not to mention bad writing — among ten thousand. 
Ha^dng been turned with its stamp in the right 
direction at the facing-tables and passed under the 
stamping machines without notice, it comes at last 
to one of the sorters, and effectually, though briefly, 
stops him. His rapid distributive hand comes to a 
dead pause. He looks hard at the letter, frowns, 
turns it upside down, turns his head a little on one 
side, can make nothing of it, puts it on one side, 
and continues his work. 

But at the Blind Division, to which it is 
speedily conveyed, our letter proves a mere trifle. 
It is nothing to the hieroglyphics which sometimes 
come under the observation of the blind officers. 
One of these officers gazes at it shrewdly for a few 
seconds. " William Stiggs, I think," he says, appeal- 
ing to a comrade. "Yes," replies the comrade, 
" number six little lady — no — aly — oh. Little Alley, 
Bring — Bringing — ah, Birmingham ! " 

Just so — the thing is made out almost as quickly 
as though it had been written in copperplate, and 
the letter, redirected in red ink, finds its way into 
the Birmingham mail-bag. 



254 Post haste : 

So far so good, but there is many a slip 'twixt 
the cup and the lip, and other elements were more 
successful than bad writing in preventing Mr. Wil- 
liam Stiggs from receiving that letter. 

When the mail-bag containing it was put into the 
Travelling Post-Office van, Mr. Bright passed in after 
it. Our energetic sorter was in charge of the van 
that night, and went to work at once. The letters 
to be dropped at the early stages of the journey had 
to be commenced even before the starting of the 
train. The letter did not turn up at first. The 
officials, of whom thei;e were six in the van, had 
littered their sorting-table and arranged many of the 
letters, and the limited mail was flying north at full 
speed before the Bones epistle found its appropriate 
pigeon-hole — for it must be understood that the vans 
of the Travelling Post-Ofifice— the P.T.O., as it is 
familiarly called by its friends — are fitted up on one 
side with a long narrow table, above which are 
numerous pigeon-holes, arranged somewhat like 
those of the sorting-tables in the non-traveUing 
Post-Offices. There is a suggestive difference, how- 
ever, in the former. Their edges are padded to 
prevent the sorters' knuckles and noses from being 
damaged in the event of violent jolting. The sides 
and ends of the vans are padded all round to mini- 
mise their injuries in the event of an accident. 
Beyond this padding, however, there are no luxuries 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 255 

— no couches or chairs ; only a few things like 
bicycle saddles attached to the tables, astride which 
the sorters sit in front of their respective pigeon- 
holes. On the other side of the van are the pegs 
on which to hang the mail-bags, a lamp and wax 
for sealing the same, and the apparatus for lowering 
and lifting the net which catches the bags. 

Everything connected with railways must needs 
be uncommonly strong, as the weight of materials, 
coupled with high speed, subjects all the parts of a 
carriage to extremely violent shocks. Hence the 
bag- catching affair is a powerful iron frame with 
rope netting, the moving of which, although aided 
by a pulley and heavy weight, tries the strength of 
a strong man. 

Nimbly worked the sorters, as they swept by 
town and field, village, tunnel, bridge, and meadow, 
— for time may not be wasted when space between 
towns is being diminished at the rate of forty or 
fifty miles an hour, and chaos has to be reduced to 
order. The registered-letter clerk sat in one corner 
in front of a set of special pigeon-holes, with a 
sliding cover, which could be pulled over all like 
a blind and locked if the clerk should have occasion 
to quit his post for a moment. While some were 
sorting, others were bagging and sealing the letters. 
Presently the junior sorter, whose special duty it ia 
to manipulate the net, became aware that a bag- 



256 POST HASTE : 

exchanging station drew near. His eyes might 
have assured him of this, but officers of the Tra- 
velling Post-Office become so expert with their 
ears as to know stations by the peculiarity of the 
respective sounds connected with them — caused, it 
might be, by the noise of tunnels, cuttings, bridges, 
or even slighter influences. 

Going quietly to the apparatus above referred to, 
the junior sorter looked out at the window and 
lowered the net, which, instead of lying flat against 
the van, now projected upwards of three feet from it. 
As he did so something flashed about his feet. He 
leaped aside and gave a shout. Fearful live creatures 
were sometimes sent by post, he knew, and serpents 
had been known before that to take an airing ir 
Post-Office vans as well as in the great sorting- 
room of St. Martin's-le -Grand ! A snake had only 
a short time before been observed at large on the 
floor of one of the night mail sorting carriages on 
the London and North-Western Piailway, which, 
after a good deal of confusion and interruption to 
the work, was killed. This flashed into his mind, 
but the moment was critical, and the junior sorter 
had no time to indulge in ^.i-ivate little weaknesses. 
Duty required prompt action. 

About a hundred yards from the approaching 
station, a mail-bag hung suspended from a massive 
wooden frame. The bag weighed nearly eighty 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 257 

pounds. It was fitted so exactly in its place, with 
reference to the approaching train, that its neck 
was caught to a nicety in a fork, which swept it 
with extreme violence off its hook, and laid it in 
the net. This process, reversed, had been at the 
same moment performed on the bag given out by 
the train. To prevent the receiving and delivering 
apparatus from causing mutual destruction in pass- 
ing each other, the former is affixed to the upper, 
the latter to the lower, part of the van. There was 
a rather severe jerk. The junior sorter exerted his 
powers, raised the net, and hauled in the bag, while 
the train with undiminished speed went thunder- 
ing on. 

" What was that I saw on the floor ? " asked the 
junior sorter, looking anxiously round as he set the 
mail-bags down. 

" Only two white mice," replied Bright, who was 
busy in front of his pigeon-holes. " They nibbled 
themselves out of a parcel under my very nose. I 
made a grab at 'em, but they were too quick for me." 

" Isn't it strange," observed the registered-letter 
clerk, sealing one of the bags which had just been 
made up, " that people will break the law by send- 
ing live animals through the post?" 

" More strange, it seems to me," returned Bright, 
as he tied up a bundle of letters, " that the people 
who do it can't pack 'em properly." 
R 



258 POST HAgTE : 

" There 's the next station," said the junior sorter, 
proceeding once more to the net. 

" Whew ! " shrieked the steam-whistle, as the 
train' went crashing towards the station. Bright 
looked out. The frame and its mail-bags were all 
right and ready. The net was lowered. Another 
moment and the mail-bags were swept into the 
van, while the out-going bags were swept off 
the projectiDg arm into the fixed net of the 
station. The train went through the station with a 
shriek and a roar. There was a bridge just beyond. 
The junior sorter forgot to haul up the net, which 
caught some object close to the bridge — no one 
knew what or how. No one ever does on such 
occasions ! The result was that the whole appa- 
ratus was demolished ; the side of the van was torn 
out, and Mr. Bright and the junior sorter, who were 
leaning against it at the time, were sent, in a shower 
of woodwork, burst bacfs, and letters, into the air. 
The rest of the van did not leave the rails, and the 
train shot out of sight in a few seconds, like a giant 
war-rocket, leaving wi'eck and ruin behind ! 

There are maiiy miraculous escapes in this world. 
Mr. Bright and the junior sorter illustrated this 
truth by rising unhurt from the debris of their 
recent labours, and began sadly to collect the 
scattered mails. These however were not, like 
their guardians, undamaged. There were several 



I 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 259 

fatal cases, and among these was the Bones epistle. 
That important document had been caught by a 
mass of timber and buried beyond recovery in the 
ballast of the line. 

But why pursue this painful subject further? It 
is sufficient to say that although the scattered mails 
were carefully collected, re-sorted, and, finally, as 
far as possible, delivered, the letter with which we 
have specially to do never reached its destination. 
Indeed, it never more saw the light of day, but 
remained in the hole where it had been buried, 
and thus it came to pass that Mr. WiUiam Stiggs 
failed to make his appearance on the appointed 
night of the 15th, and Abel Bones was constrained 
to venture on his deed of darkness alone. 

On the appointed night, however, Tottie did not 
fail to do her best to frustrate her father's plans. 
After a solemn, and last, consultation with her 
mother, she left her home with fluttering heart and 
dry tongue, and made for the General Post-Office. 



260 POST HASTE r 



CHAPTER XIX. 

UEEP-LAID PLANS FOR CHECKMATING MR. BONES. 

Now it chanced that the Post- Office Message- boys' 
Literary Association had fixed to hold its first grand 
soiree on the night of the 15th. 

It was a great occasion. Of course it was held in 
Pegaway Hall, the shed in rear of Solomon Flint's 
dwelling. There were long planks on trestles for 
tables, and school forms to match. There were slabs 
of indigestible cake, buns in abundance, and tea, 
with milk and sugar mixed, in illimitable quantities. 
There were paper flowers, and illuminated texts and 
proverbs round the walls, the whole being lighted 
up by two magnificent paraffin lamps, which also 
served to perfume the hall agreeably to such of the 
members and guests as happened to be fond of bad 
smells. 

On this particular evening invitations had been 
issued to several friends of the members of the Asso- 
ciation, among whom were Mr. Enoch Blurt and 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY*S MAILS. 261 

My. Sterling the missionary. No ladies were invited. 
A spirited discussion had taken place on this point 
some nights before the soiree, on which occasion the 
bashful Poker opposed the motion " that invitations 
should be issued to ladies," on the ground that, being 
himself of a susceptible nature, the presence of the 
fair sex would tend to distract his attention from the 
business on hand. Big Jack also opposed it, as he 
thought it wasn't fair to the fair sex to invite them 
to a meeting of boys, but Big Jack was immediately 
called to order, and reminded that the Society was 
composed of young men, and that it was unmanly 
— not to say unmannerly — to make puns on the 
ladies. To this sentiment little Grigs shouted 
" Hear ! hear ! ' in deafening tones, and begged leave 
to support the motion. This he did in an eloquent 
but much interrupted speech, which was finally cut 
short by Macnab insisting that the time of the 
Society should not be taken up with an irrelevant 
commentary on ladies by little Grigs ; whereupon 
Sandy Tod objected to interruptions in general — 
except when made by himself — and was going on to 
enlarge on the inestimable blessing of free discus- 
sion when he was in turn called to order. Then 
Blunter and Scroggins, and Tat Collins and Bobby 
Sprat, started simultaneously to their feet, but were 
put down by Peter Pax, who rose; and, with a calm 
dignified wave of his hand, remarked that as the 



262 POST HASTE : 

question before the meeting was whether ladies 
should or should not be invited to the soiree, the 
simplest plan would be to put it to the vote. On 
this being done, it was found that the meeting was 
equally divided, whereupon the chairman — Phil 
Maylands — gave his casting vote in favour of the 
amendment, and thus the ladies were excluded from 
the soiree amid mingled groans and cheers. 

But although the fair sex were debarred from 
joining in the festivities, they were represented on 
the eventful evening in question by a Mrs. Square, 
an angular washerwoman with only one eye (but 
that was a piercingly black one), who dwelt in the 
same court, and who consented to act the double 
part of tea-maker and doorkeeper for that occasion. 
As most of the decorations and wreaths had been 
made and hung up by IMay Maylands and two of 
her telegraphic friends, there was a pervading in- 
fluence of woman about Pegaway Hall, in spite of 
Phil's ungallant and un-Irish vote. 

When Tottie Bones arrived at the General Post- 
Of&ce in search of Peter Pax, she was directed to 
Pegaway Hall by those members of the staff whose 
duties prevented their attendance at the commence- 
ment of the soiree. 

Finding the hall with difficulty, she was met and 
stopped by the uncompromising and one-eyed stare 
of Mrs. Square. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 2G3 

"Please, ma'am, is IMr. Peter Pax here?" asked 
Tottie. 

" Yes, he is, but he 's enoacred." 

Tottie could not doubt the truth of this, for 
through the half- open door of the hall she saw and 
heard the little secretary on his little legs address- 
ing the house. 

"Please may I wait till he's done?" asked 
Tottie. 

" You may, if you keep quiet, but I doubt if he '11 
'ave time to see you even w'en he is done," said the 
one-eyed one, fiercely. — " D' you like buns or cake 
best ?" 

Tottie was much surprised by the question, but 
stated at once her decided preference for cake. 

" Look here," said Mrs. Square, removing a towel 
from a large basket. 

Tottie looked, and saw that the basket was 
three-quarters full of buns and cakes. 

" That," said the washerwoman, " is their leavin's. 
One on 'em called it the debree of the feast, though 
what that means is best known to hisself. For one 
hour by the clock these literairies went at it, tootli 
an' nail, but they failed to get through with all that 
was purwided, though they stuffed themselves to 
their muzzles. — There, 'elp yourself." 

Tottie selected a moderate slab of the indigestible 
cake, and sat down on a stool to cat it with as much 



264 POST HASTE : 

patience as she could muster in tlie circum- 
stances. 

Peter Pax's remarks, what ever else they might have 
been considered, possessed the virtue of brevity. He 
soon sat down amid much applause, and Mr. Ster- 
ling rose to speak. 

At this point Tottie, who had cast many anxious 
glances at a small clock which hung in the outer 
porch or vestibule of the hall, entreated Mrs. 
Square to tell Pax that he was wanted very much 
indeed. 

" I durstn't," said Mrs. Square ; it 's as much as 
my sitooation's worth. I was told by Mr. May- 
lands, the chairman, to allow of no interruptions 
nor any think of the kind." 

" But please, ma'am," pleaded Tottie, with such 
an earnest face that the woman was touched, " it 's 
a matter of — of — life an' death — at least it may be 
so. Oh! do- 0-0-0 tell 'im he's wanted — by Tottie 
Bones. Only say Tottie Bones, that '11 be sure to 
bring 'im out." 

" Well — I never !" exclaimed Mrs. Square, stick- 
ing her fists in her waist and leaning her head to 
one side in critical scrutiny of her small petitioner. 
" You do seem cock-sure o' your powers. H'm ! 
p'r'aps you're not far out neither. Well, I'll try it 
on, though it may cost me a deal of abuse. You 
sit there an' see that cats don't get at the wittles 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. S65 

for the cats in this court are a sharper set than 
or'nar." 

Mrs. Square entered the hall, and begged one of 
the members near the door to pass up a message — 
as quietly as possible — to the effect that Mr. Pax 
was wanted. 

This was immediately done by the member 
shouting, irreverently, that tlie secretary's mother 
" 'ad come to take 'im 'ome." 

"Order, order! Put 'im out!" from several of 
the members. 

" Any'ow, 'e 's wanted by some one on very 
parti kler business," growled the irreverent mem 
ber, and the secretary made his way to the door. 

"Wy, Tottie!" exclaimed Pax, taking both the 
child's hands patronisingly in his, " what brings 
you here ? " 

With a furtive glance at Mrs. Square, Tottie said, 
" Oh ! please, I want to speak about something very 
partikler." 

" Indeed ! come out to the court then," said little 
Pax, leading the way ; " you '11 be able to air the 
subject better there, whatever it is, and the cats 
won't object. Sorry I can't take you into the hall, 
little 'un, but ladies ain't admitted." 

When the child, with eager haste, stated the 
object of her visit, and wound up her discourse 
with the earnest remark that her father must be 



266 POST HASTE : 

stopped, and mustn't be took, her small counsellor 
looked as perplexed and anxious as herself. Wrink- 
ling up his smooth brow, he expressed the belief 
that it was a difficult world to deal with, and he 
had had some trouble already in finding out how to 
manage it. 

" You see. Tot," he said, " this is a great evenin 
with the literary message-boys. Not that I care a 
rap for that, but I Ve unfortunately got to move a 
vote of thanks to our lecturer to-night, and say 
somethin' about the lecture, which I couldn't do, 
you know, unless I remained to hear it. To be sure, 
I might get some one else to take my place, but 
I'm not easily spared, for half the fun o' the 
evenin' would be lost if they hadn't got me to 
make game of and air their chaff upon. Still, as 
you say, your dad must have his little game 
stopped. He must be a great blackg — I beg 
pardon. Tot, I mean that he must be a great 
disregarder of the rights of man — woman, as it 
happens, in this case. However, as you said, with 
equal truth, he must not be took, for if he was, 
he'd probably be hanged, and I couldn't bear to 
think of your father bein' scragged. Let me see. 
When did you say he meant to start?" 

"He said to mother that he'd leave at nine, and 
might 'ave to be out all night." 

"At nine — eh? That would just give 'im time 



A I'ALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 267 

to get to Charing Cross to catch the 9.30 train. 
Solomon Flint's lecture will be over about eight. 
I could polish 'im off in ten minutes or so, and 'ave 
plenty of time to catch the same train. Yes, that 
will do. But how am I to know your father, 
Tot, for you know I haven't yet had the pleasure 
of makin' his acquaintance?" 

" Oh, you cant mistake him," replied the child 
confidently. " He 's a big, tall, 'andsome man, with 
a 'ook nose an' a great cut on the bridge of it all 
down 'is left cheek. You '11 be sure to know 'im. 
But how will you stop 'im ?" 

"That is more than I can tell at present, my 
dear," replied Pax, with a careworn look, "but 
I '11 hatch a plot of some sort durin' the lecture. 
— Let me see," he added, with sudden animation, 
glancing at the limited portion of sky that roofed 
the court, " I might howl 'im down ! That 's not a 
bad idea. Yellin' is a powerful influence w'en 
brought properly to bear. D' you mind waitin' in 
the porch till the lecture 's over ?" 

" no ! I can wait as long as ever you please, 
if you'll only try to save father," was Tottie's 
piteous response. 

"Well, then, go into the porch and sit by the 
door, so that you can hear and see what 's goin' on. 
Don't be afraid of the one-eyed fair one who guards 
the portals. She 's not as bad as she looks ; only 



268 POST HASTE : 

take care that you don't tread on her toes ; she 
can't stand that" 

Tottie promised to be careful in this respect, and 
expressed a belief that she was too light to hurt 
Mrs. Square, even if she did tread on her toes 
accidentally. 

" You 're wrong, Tottie," returned Pax ; " most 
females of your tender years are apt to jump at 
wrong conclusions. As you live longer you'll find out 
that some people's toes a.re so sensitive that they 
can't bear a feather's weight on 'em. Wy, there 's 
a member of our Society who riles up directly if 
yoQ even look at his toes. We keep that member's 
feet in hot water pretty continuously, we do. — There 
now, I '11 be too late if I keep on talkin' like this. 
You '11 not feel tired of the lecture, for Solomon's 
sure to be interesting, whatever his subject may be. 
I don't know what it is — he hasn't told us yet. 
You '11 soon hear it if you listen." 

Pax re-entered the hall, and Tottie sat down by 
the door beside Mrs. Square, just as Solomon Flint 
rose to his legs amid thunders of applause. 



A TALE OF HEE MAJESTY'S MAILS. 269 



CHAPTEE XX. 



THE POST OF THE OLDEN TIME. 



When the applause had subsided Solomon Flint 
caused a slight feeling of depression in the meeting 
by stating that the subject which he meant to bring 
before them that evening was a historical view of 
the Post- Office. Most of those present felt that they 
had had more than enough of the Post- Office thrust 
on their attention every day of their lives, and 
the irreverent member ventured to call out " Shop," 
but he was instantly and indignantly called to order. 

When, however, Solomon went on to state his firm 
belief that a particular branch of the Post-Office 
began in the immediate neighbourhood of the 
Garden of Eden, and that Adam was the first Post- 
master-General, the depression gave way to interest, 
not unmingled with curiosity. 

" You see, my young friends," continued the lec- 
turer, " our information with regard to the origin of 
the Post-Office is slight. The same may be said as 



270 POST HASTE : 

to the origin of a'most everythink. Taking the 
little information that we do possess, and applying 
to it the reasoning power which was given to us for 
the purpose of investigatin' an' discoverin' truth, I 
come to the following conclusions : — 

" Adam was a tiller of the ground. There can 
be no doubt about that. Judging from analogy, we 
have the best ground for supposing that while Adam 
was digging in the fields Eve was at home preparing 
the dinner, and otherwise attending to the domestic 
arrangements of the house, or hut, or hovel, or cave. 
Dinner being ready, Eve would naturally send little 
Cain or Abel to fetch their father, and thus, you see, 
the branch of boy-messengers began. (Applause, 
mingled with laughter and cheers.) 

" Of course," continued Solomon, " it may be ob- 
jected — for some people can always object — (Hear, 
hear) — that these were not Post-Office messengers, 
but, my young friends, it is well known that the 
greater includes the less. As mankind is involved 
in Adam, and the oak is embedded in the acorn, so 
it may be maintained that the first faint germ of 
the Boy- Messenger Branch of the Post-Office was 
included in Cain and Abel. 

"Passing, however, from what I may style thJ 
Post-Ofiice germ, over many centuries, during which 
the records of postal history are few and faint and 
far between, we come down to more modern times — 



^-"*^ 



i 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 271 

say five or six hundred years ago — and what do 
we find? (Here Solomon became solemn.) We 
find next to nothink ! Absolutely next to nothink ! 
The Boy-Messenger Department had indeed de- 
veloped amazingly, insomuch that, whereas there 
were only two to begin with, there were in the 15th 
century no fewer than innumerable millions of 'em 
in every region and land and clime to which the 
'uman family had penetrated, but no section of them 
had as yet prefixed the word ' Telegraph ' to their 
name, and as to postal arrangements, w'y, they were 
simply disgraceful. Just think, now, up to the cen- 
tury of which I speak — the fifteenth — there was no 
regular Post-Office in this country. Letters were 
conveyed by common carriers at the rate, probably, 
of three or four miles an hour. Flesh and blood 
couldn't stand that, you know, so about the close of 
the century, places, or ' posts,' were established in 
some parts of the country, where horses could be 
hired by travellers, and letters might be conveyed. 
The post-boys of those days evidently required 
spurring as well as their horses, for letters of this 
period have been preserved with the words ' Haste, 
'\,post haste* on their backs. Sometimes the writers 
^ seem to have been in a particularly desperate hurry. 
One letter, written by a great man of the period, had 



on the back of it the words, ' In haste 
for thy life, for thy life, for thy life 



post haste, 
and it is 



272 POST HASTE I 

believed that this was no idle caution, but a threat 
which was apt to be carried out if the post-boy- 
loitered on the way." 

It may be remarked that Solomon's language be- 
came more refined as he proceeded, but lapsed into 
a free-and-easy style whenever he became jocular. 

"The first horse-posts," continued the lecturer, 
"were established for military purposes — the con- 
venience of the public being deemed quite a secondary 
matter. Continental nations were in advance of Eng- 
land in postal arrangements, and in the first quarter 
of the sixteenth century (1514) the foreign merchants 
residing in London were so greatly inconvenienced 
by the want of regular letter conveyance, that they 
set up a Post-Ofi&ce of their own from London to its 
outports, and appointed their own Postmaster, but, 
quarrelling among themselves, they referred their 
dispute to Government. James i. established a 
Post- Office for letters to foreign countries, for the 
benefit of English merchants, but it was not till the 
year 1635 — in the reign of Charles I. — that a Post- 
Office for inland letters was established. It was 
ordained that the Postmaster of England for foreign 
parts ' should settle a running post or two to run 
night and day between Edinburgh and London, to, 
go thither and come back again in six days, and 
to take with them all such letters as shall be 
directed to any post-town in or near that road. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 273 

•'In 1640 the Post-Office was placed under the 
care and superintendence of the Principal Secretary 
of State, and became one of the settled institutions 
of the country. 

" Here, then, we have what may be considered the 
birth of the Post-Office, which is now pretty nigh 
two centuries and a half old. And what a wonder- 
ful difference there is between this infant Post-Office 
and the man ! Then, six days ; now, less than a 
dozen hours, between the capitals of England and 
Scotland — to say nothing of other things. But, my 
lads, we must not turn up our noses at the day of 
small things." 

"Hear, hear," cried little Grigs, who approved 
the sentiment. 

"Lay it to heart then, Grigs," said Peter Pax, 
who referred to the fact that little Grigs's nose 
was turned up so powerfully by nature that it could 
not help turning up at things small and great, alike. 

Laughter and great applause were mingled with 
cries of " Order," which Solomon subdued by holding 
up his hand. 

"At the same time," continued the lecturer, 
" bye-posts were set agoing to connect the mainline 
with large towns, such as Hull, Lincoln, Chester, 
etc. These bye- posts were farmed out to private 
individuals, and the rates iixed at 2d. a single letter 
to any place under 80 miles ; 4d. up to 140 miles ; 

S 



274 POST HASTE : 

6d. to any more distant place in England ; and 8d. 
to Scotland. 

" From that date forward the infant began to grow 
— sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, now and 
then by spurts — ^just like other infants, and a hor- 
ribly spoiled and mismanaged baby it was at first. 
Those who see it now, — in the prime of its man- 
hood, wielding its giant strength with such ease, 
accomplishing all but miraculous work with so great 
speed, regularity, and certainty, and with so little 
fuss,-^can hardly believe what a cross-grained little 
stupid thing it was in those early days, or what 
tremendous difficulties it had to contend with. 

" In the first place, the roads in the land were few, 
and most of them inconceivably bad, besides which 
they were infested by highwaymen, who often took a 
fancy to rummage the mail-bags and scatter their con- 
tents. The post in those days was slow, but not sure. 
Then it experienced some trouble from other infants, 
of the same family, who claimed a right to share its 
privileges. Among these was a Post- Office estab- 
lished by the Common Council of London in direct 
rivalry to the Parliamentary child. This resulted 
in a great deal of squabbling and pamphleteering, 
also in many valuable improvements — for it is well 
known that opposition is the life of trade. The 
Council of State, however, came to the conclusion 
that, in an affair so thoroughly national, the office 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY*S MAILS. 275 

of Postmaster and the management of the Post- 
Office ought to rest in the sole power and disposal 
of Parliament; the City posts were peremptorily 
suppressed ; opposition babies were quietly — no 
doubt righteously — murdered; and from that date 
the carrying of letters has remained the exclusive 
privilege of the Crown. But considerable and 
violent opposition was made to this monopoly. 
Tliis is a world of opposition, my young friends" — the 
lecturer was pathetic here — " and I have no doubt 
whatever that it was meant to be a world of opposi- 
tion " — the lecturer was energetic here, and drew an 
emphatic " Hear, hear," from the Scotch members. 
" Why, it is only by opposition that questions are 
ventilated and truth is established ! 

" i^o doubt every member of this ancient and 
literary Society is well acquainted with the name 
of Hill — (great cheering) — Sir Eowland Hill, who 
in the year 1840 succeeded in getting introduced 
to the nation one of the greatest boons with which 
it has been blessed — namely, the Penny Post. (Ee- 
newed cheering.) Well, it is a curious and interest- 
ing fact that in the middle of the seventeenth 
century — more than two hundred years ago — a 
namesake of Sir Eowland (whether an ancestor or 
not I cannot tell), a Mr. John Hill, wrote a pamphlet 
in which monopoly was condemned and a penny 
post suggested. The title of the pamphlet was 



276 POST HASTE : 

' John Hill's Penny Post ; or, A Vindication of every 
Englishman in carrying JMerchants' or any other 
Men's Letters against any restraints of Farmers of 
such Employment.' So, you see, in regard to the 
Penny Post, the coming event cast its shadow about 
two hundred years in advance. 

" The Creeping Era may be the title assigned to 
this period of Post- Office history. Little was ex- 
pected of the Post-Office, and not much was done. 
Nevertheless, considering the difficulties in its way, 
our infant progressed wonderfully. Its revenue in 
1649 was £5000. Gradually it got upon its legs. 
Then it monopolised post-horses and began to run. 
Waxing bolder, it also monopolised packet-boats 
and went to sea. Like all bold and energetic 
children, it had numerous falls, and experienced 
many troubles in its progress. Nevertheless its 
heart was kept up by the steady increase of its 
revenue, which amounted to £76,000 in 1687. 
During the following seventy- eight years the in- 
crease was twofold, and during the next ninety 
years (to 1854) it was tenfold. 

" It was hard times with the Post-Office officials 
about the beginning of last century. 

"During what we may call the Post-boy Era, 
the officials were maltreated by robbers on shore 
and by privateers (next thing to pirates) at sea. 
In fact they were compelled to become men of war. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 277 

And the troubles and anxieties of the Postmaster- 
Generals were proportionately great. The latter 
had to fit out the mail-packets as ships of war, 
build new ships, and sell old ones, provide stores 
and ammunition for the same, engage captains and 
crews, and attend to their disputes, mutinies, and 
shortcomings. They had also to correspond with 
the deputy -postmasters all over the country about 
all sorts of matters — chiefly their arrears and care- 
lessness or neglect of duty — besides foreign corre- 
spondence. What the latter involved may be partly 
gathered from lists of the articles sent by post at that 
time. Among other things, we find reference to 
' fifteen couple of hounds going to the King of the 
Eomans with a free pass.' A certain ' Dr. Crichton, 
carrying with him a cow and divers other neces- 
saries,' is mentioned as having been posted ! also 
' two servant-maids going as laundresses to my Lord 
Ambassador Methuen,' and ' a deal case with four 
flitches of bacon for Mr. Pennington of Eotterdam.' 
The captains of the mail-packets ought to have worn 
coats of mail, for they had orders to run while they 
could, to fight when they could not run, and to throw 
the mails overboard when fighting failed ! 

'' Of course, it is to be hoped, this rule was not 
strictly enforced when doctors and females formed 
part of the mails ! 

'' In one case a certain James Vickers, captain of 



278 POST HASTE : 

the mail-packet ' Grace Dogger/ lay in Dublin Bay 
waiting till the tide should enable him to get over 
the bar. A French privateer chanced to be on the 
look-out in these waters, and pounced upon James 
Vickers, w^ho was either unable or unwilling to 
fight. The French captain stripped the ' Grace 
Dogger ' — as the chronicler writes — ' of rigging, 
sails, spars, yards, and all furniture wherewith she 
had been provided for due accommodation of pas- 
sengers, leaving not so much as a spoone, or a naile, 
or a hooke to hang anything on.' Having thus 
made a clean sweep of her valuables, and having 
no use for the hull, the Frenchman ransomed the 
' Grace Dogger ' to poor J. V. for fifty guineas, 
which the Post-Of&ce had to pay ! 

" But our mail-packets were not always thus 
easily or summarily mastered. Sometimes they 
fought and conquered, but, whatever happened, the 
result was invariably productive of expense, because 
wounded men had to be cared for and cured or pen- 
sioned. Thus one Edward James had a donation of 
£5, because 'a musket shot had grazed the tibia of his 
left leg.' AYhat the tihia may be, my young friends, 
is best known to the doctors — I have not taken the 
trouble to inquire ! (Hear, hear, and applause.) Then 
another got £12 'because a shot had divided his 
frontal muscles and fractured his skull;' while a 
third received a yearly pension of £6, 13s. 4d. 'on 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 579 

account of a shot in tlie hinder part of the head, 
whereby a large division of scalp was made.' Ob- 
serve what significance there is in that fourpence ! 
Don't it speak eloquently of the strict justice of the 
Post- Office authorities of those days ? Don't it tell 
of tender solicitude on their part thus to gauge 
the value of gunshot wounds ? Might it not be 
said that the men were carefully rated when 
wounded? One Postmaster- General writes to an 
agent at Falmouth in regard to rates : * Each arm 
or leg amputated above the elbow or knee is £8 
per annum ; below the knee, 20 nobles. Loss of 
sight of one eye, £4 ; of pupil of the eye, £5 ; of 
sight of both eyes, £12 ; of pupils of both eyes, 
£1 4.' Our well-known exactitude began to crop up, 
you see, even in those days. 

" The post-boys — who in many instances were 
grey-headed men — also gave the authorities much 
trouble, many of them being addicted to strong 
drink, and not a few to dilatory habits and dis- 
honesty. One of them was at one time caught in 
the act of breaking the laws. At that period the 
bye-posts were farmed, but the post-boys, regardless 
of farmers' rights, often carried letters and brought 
back answers on their own account — receiving and 
keeping the hire, so that neither the Post- Office nor 
the farmer got the benefit. The particular boy 
referred to was convicted and committed to prison, 



280 POST HASTE : 

but as lie could not get bail — having neither friends 
nor money — he begged to be whipped instead ! 
His petition was granted, and he was accordingly 
whipped to his heart's content — or, as the chronicler 
has it, he was whipped ' to the purpose/ 

" Many men of great power and energy contributed 
to the advance of the Post-Ofi&ce in those times. I 
won't burden your minds with many of their names 
however. One of them, William Dockwra, started 
a penny post in London for letters and small 
parcels in 1683. Twenty-three years later an 
attempt was made to start a halfpenny post in 
London, but that was suppressed. 

'' Soon after that a great man arose named Ealph 
Allen. He obtained a lease of the cross posts from 
Government for life at £6000 a year. By his 
wisdom and energy he introduced vast improve- 
ments in the postal system, besides making a 
profit of £12,000 a year, which he lived to enjoy 
for forty-four years, spending much of his fortune 
in charity and in the exercise of hospitality to men 
of learning and genius. 

"About the middle of last century— the eighteenth 
— the Post- Office, although greatly increased in 
efficiency, was an insignificant affair compared 
with that of the present day. It was bound to 
pay into the Exchequer £700 a week. In Ireland 
and Scotland improvements also went on apace, 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 281 

but not SO rapidly as in England, as might have 
been expected, considering tlie mountainous nature 
of these countries. In Scotland the first modern 
stage-coach was introduced in 1776. The same 
year a penny post was started in Edinburgh by a 
certain Peter Williamson of Aberdeen, who was a 
keeper of a coffee-stall in the Parliament House, 
and his experiment was so successful that he had to 
employ four carriers to deliver and collect letters. 
These men rang a bell on their rounds and wore a 
uniform. Others soon entered into competition, 
but the Post- Office authorities came forward, took 
the local penny post in hand, and pensioned 
Williamson off. 

" It was not till the end of the century that the 
Post- Office made one of its greatest and most 
notable strides. 

" The Mail-coach Era followed that of the post- 
boys, and was introduced by Mr. John Palmer, 
manager of the Bath theatre. The post-boys had 
become so unbearably slow and corrupt that people 
had taken to sending valuable letters in brown 
paper parcels by the coaches, which had now begun 
to run between most of the great towns. Palmer, 
who afterwards became Controller-General of the 
Post-Office, proposed that mail-bags should be sent 
by passenger-coaches with trusty and armed guards. 
His advice, after some opposition, was acted on, and 



282 POST HASTE : 

thus the mails came to travel six miles an hour, 
instead of three or four — the result being an 
immediate increase of correspondence, despite an 
increase of postage. Eapidity, security, regularity, 
economy, are the great requisites in a healthy 
postal system. Here, then, was an advance in at 
least two of these. The advance was slight, it is 
true, but once more, I repeat, we ought not to 
turn up our noses at the day of small things. 
(Little Grigs was going to repeat " Hear ! hear ! " 
but thought better of it and checked himself) 
Of course there was opposition to the stage- 
coaches. There always is and will be opposition 
to everything in a world of mixed good and evil. 
(The Scotsman here thought of repeating " Hear ! 
hear !" but refrained.) One pamphleteer denounced 
them as the * greatest evil that had happened of 
late years in these kingdoms, — mischievous to the 
public, prejudicial to trade, and destructive to lands. 
Those who travel in these coaches contract an idle 
habit of body, become weary and listless when 
they had rode a few miles, and were unable to travel 
on horseback, and not able to endure frost, snow, or 
rain, or to lodge in the fields.' . Opposition for ever ! 
So it ever is. So it was when foot- runners gave place 
to horsemen ; so it was when horseflesh succumbed 
to steam. So it -will be when electro-galvanic aerial 
locomotives take the place — . (The remainder of 



A TALE OF H].:: MAJESTY'S MAILS. 283 

tlie sentence was lost in laughter and rapturous 
applause.) But roads Avere still intolerably bad. 
Stage-coach travelling was a serious business. 
Men made their wills before setting out on a 
journey. The journey between Edinburgh and 
London was advertised to last ten days in summer, 
and twelve in winter, and that, too, in a so-called 
'flying machine on steel springs.' But, to re- 
turn : — Our infant, having now become a sturdy 
youth, advanced somewhat more rapidly. In 1792 
a money-order office was set on foot for the first 
time. It had been originally undertaken by some 
post-office clerks on their own account, but was 
little used until the introduction of the penny 
postage. Great reforms were made in many de- 
partments. Among them was an Act passed to 
authorise the sending of letter-bags by private 
ships. This originated the ship-lettei system, by 
which letters are now conveyed to every part of 
the world visited by private ships. 

" Another mighty influence for good was the intro- 
duction (about 1818) of macadamised roads, which 
brought travelling up to the point of ten miles an 
hour. So also was the opening for use in 1829 
of St. Martin's-le-Grand — a grand event this, in 
every sense of the word. (Here a member objected 
to punning, and was immediately hooted out of 
countenance.) 



284 POST HASTE : 

" With mail-coaches, macadamised roads, security, 
ten miles an hour, and a vastly increased revenue^ 
the Post-Office seemed to have reached the highest 
heights of prosperity. The heights from which we 
now look down upon these things ought to make 
us humble in our estimate of the future ! We 
have far surpassed the wildest dreams of those 
days, but there were some points of picturesque 
interest in which we can never surpass them. 
Ah ! boys," said Solomon, looking up with a gleam 
of enthusiasm in his eyes, " I mind the old mail- 
coaches well. They had for a long time before 
I knew them reached their best days. It was 
about the year 1820 that most of the post-roads 
had been macadamised, and -the service had reached 
its highest state of efficiency. In 1836 there were 
fifty four-horse mails in England, thirty in Ireland, 
and ten in Scotland, besides forty-nine two-horse 
mails in Enoland. Those who have not seen the 
starting of the mail-coaches from the General Post- 
Office can never understand the magnificence and 
excitement of that scene. The coaches were clean, 
trim, elegant, and glittering ; the blood-horses were 
the finest that could be procured, groomed to per- 
fection, and full of fire ; the drivers and guards were 
tried and trusty men of mettle, in bright scarlet 
costume — some of the former being lords, baronets, 
and even parsons ! It was a gay and stirring sight 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 285 

wlien the insides and outsides were seated, 
when the drivers seized their reins, and the bugles 
sounded, the whips cracked, the impatient steeds 
reared, plunged, or sprang away, and the Eoyal 
Mails flew from the yard of St. Martin's-le- Grand 
towards every corner of the Kingdom. 

" Their progress, too, was a sort of royal progress — 
a triumphal march. Wherever they had to pass, 
crowds of people waited for them in subdued ex- 
citement, hailed them with delight, and waved 
them on with cheers, for they were almost the only 
means of distributing news ; and when a great 
victory, such as Trafalgar, Vittoria, or Waterloo 
had to be announced, the mail-coaches — dressed 
in flowers and ribbons, with guards shouting 
the news to eager crowds as they passed through 
hamlet, village, and town — swept like a thrill of 
electric fire throughout the land. News was news in 
those days ! You didn't get it at all till you got it 
altogether, and then you got it like a thunderbolt. 
There was no dribbling of advance telegrams ; no 
daily papers to spread the news (or lies), and con- 
tradict 'em next day, in the same columns with 
commentaries or prophetic remarks on what might 
or should have been, but wasn't, until news got 
tied up into a hopeless entanglement, so that when 
it was at last cleared up you 'd been worried out of 
half your interest in it ! Yes, my lads, although I 



^86 POST HASTli: t 

would not wish to see the return of those stirring 
days, I 'm free to assert that the world lost some- 
thing good, and that it was not all clear gain when 
the old four-in-hand Eoyal Mail coaches drove out 
of the present into the past, and left the Iron Horse 
in possession of the field. 

"But nothing can arrest the hand of Time. 
When mail-coaches were at their best, and a 
new Great North Eoad was being laid out by 
Telford, the celebrated engineer, another celebrated 
engineer, named Stephenson, was creating strange 
commotion among the coal-pits of the North. The 
iron horse was beginning to snort. Soon he began 
to shriek and claw the rails. Despite the usual 
opposition, he succeeded in asserting himseK, and, in 
the words of a disconsolate old mail-coach guard, 
'men began to make a gridiron of old England.' 
The romance of the road had faded away. No more 
for the old guard were there to be the exciting bustle 
of the start, the glorious rush out of the smoky town 
into the bright country ; the crash through hamlet 
and village ; the wayside changings ; the rough cross- 
ing of snow-drifted moorlands ; the occasional break- 
downs ; the difficulties and dangers ; the hospitable 
inns ; the fireside gossipings. The old guard's day 
was over, and a new act in the drama of human 
progress had begun. 

\ " The Railway Era may be said to have commenced 

\ 



A TALt: OF HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 28? 

about the time of tlie opening of the Liverpool and 
Manchester line in 1830, though the railway sys- 
tem developed slowly during the first few years. 
Men did not believe in it, and many suggestions were 
made to accelerate the speed of mails in other ways. 
One writer proposed balloons. Another — Professor 
Babbage — suggested a series of high pillars with 
wires stretched thereon, along which letter-bags 
might be drawn. He even hinted that such pillars 
and wires might come to be ' made available for a 
species of telegraphic communication yet more rapid' 
— a hint which is peculiarly interesting when we 
consider that it was given long prior to the time of 
the electric telegraph. But the Iron Horse rode 
roughshod over all other plans, and finally became 
the recognised and effective method of conveyance. 

" During this half-century of the mail-coach 
period many improvements and alterations had 
been made in the working of the Post-0 ffice. 

" Among other things, the mails to India were 
despatched for the first time by the * overland 
route ' — the Mediterranean, Suez, and the Eed Sea 
• — in 1835. A line of communication was subse- 
quently extended to China and Australia. In the 
following year the reduction of the stamp-duty on 
newspapers to one penny led to a great increase in 
that branch of the service. 

" But now approached the time for the greatest 



288 POST HASTE : 

reform of all — that reduction of postage of which 1 
have already spoken — namely, the uniform rate of 
one penny for all inland letters not exceeding a 
certain weight. 

"The average postage of a letter in 1837 was 
8|d. Owing to the heavy rates the net proceeds 
of the Department had remained stationary for 
nearly twenty years. To mend this state of matters, 
Sir Eowland Hill fought his long and famous fight, 
the particulars of which I may not enter on just 
now, but which culminated in victory in 1840, 
when the Penny Post was established throughout the 
kingdom. Sir Ptowland still (1879) lives to witness 
the thorough success of his daring and beneficent 
innovation ! It is impossible to form a just esti- 
mate of the value of cheap postage to the nation, 
— I may say, to the world. Trade has been 
increased, correspondence extended, intelligence 
deepened, and mental activity stimulated. 

'•The immediate result of the change was to 
raise the number of letters passing through the post 
from seventy-six millions in 1839 to one hundred 
and sixty-nine millions in 1840. Another result 
was the entire cessation of the illicit smuggling of 
letters. Despite penal laws, some carriers had been 
doing as large a business in illegal conveyance of 
letters as the Post-Office itself! One seizure made, 
of a single bag in the warehouse of a well-known 



X TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 289 

Loudon carrier, revealed eleven hundred sucli 
letters ! Ilie horrified head of the firm hastened 
to the 0.^08 oinaster- General, and offered immediate 
payment of £500 to escape the penalties incurred. 
The money was accepted, and the letters were all 
passed througli the Post-Ofi&ce the same night ! 

" Sir Eowland— then Mr. — Hill had said that the 
Post-OiSice was 'capable of performing a distin- 
guished part in the great work of national education.' 
His prophetic words have been more than justified. 
People who never wrote letters before write them 
now. Those who wrote only a few letters now 
write hundreds. Only grave and important subjects 
were formerly treated of by letter, now we send the 
most trifling as well as the most weighty matters 
by the penny post in such floods that there is scarce 
room to receive the correspondence, but liberal men 
and measures have been equal to the emergency. 
One objector to cheap rates prophesied that their 
adoption would cause the very walls of the General 
Post-Office to burst. Well, it has seemed as if his 
prophecy were about to come true, especially on 
recent Christmas eves, but it is not yet fulfilled, for 
the old place has a tough skin, and won't burst up 
for a considerable time to come. (Great applause.) 

" Pinancially, too," continued Solomon, "the 
Penny Post reform was an immense success, 
though at first it showed a tendency to hang fire. 

T 



290 POST HASTE : 

The business of the Money Order Office was enor- 
mously increased, as the convenience of that 
important department became obvious to the public, 
and trade was so greatly improved that many trades- 
men, at the end of the first three years, took the 
trouble to write to the Post- Office to tell how their 
business had increased since the introduction of the 
change. In short, the Penny Post would require a 
lecture to itself. I will therefore dismiss it with the 
remark that it is one of the greatest blessings of 
modern times, and that the nation owes an everlast- 
ing debt of gratitude to its author. 

" With decreased rates came the other great requi- 
sites, — increased speed and security ; and now, as you 
all know, the work of the Post-Office, in all its wide 
ramifications, goes on with the uniform regularity 
of a good chronometer from year to year. 

" To the special duty of letter-carrying the Post- 
Office has now added the carriage of books and 
patterns, and a Savings Bank as well as a Money 
Order department ; but if I were to enlarge on the 
details of all this it would become necessary to order 
coffee and buns for the whole Society of literary 
message-boys, and make up our beds on the floor of 
Pegaway Hall — (Hear ! hear ! applause, and cries 
of * Go on !') — to avoid which I shall bring my dis- 
course to a close, with a humble apology for having 
detained you so long." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 291 



CHAPTEE XXL 

TEl.LS OF A. SERIES OF TERBIBLK SURPRISES. 

"Well, what did you think of that, old girl?" 
asked Peter Pax of Tottie, on issuing from the 
Literary Message -Boys' Hall, after having per- 
tormed his duties there. 

'■' It was wonderful. I 'ad no idear that the Post- 
Office was so old or so grand a' institootion — But 
please don't forget father," said Tottie, with an 
anxious look at the battered clock. 

" T don^t forget 'im. Tot. I 've been thinkin' 
about 'im the whole time, an' I've made up my 
mind what to do. The only thing I ain't sure of is 
whether I shouldn't take my friend Phil Maylands 
into partnership.*' 

''Oh, please, don't," pleaded Tottie ; "I shouldn't 
like 'im to know about father." 

" Well, the less he knows about 'im the better. 
P'r'aps you 're right. I '11 do it alone, so you cut 
away home. I '11 go to have my personal appearance 



292 POST HASTE : 

improved, and then off to Cliaring Cross. Lots of 
time, Tottie. Don't be anxious. Try if you can 
trust me. I 'm small, no doubt, but I 'm tough. 
—Good-night." 

When Abel Bones seated himself that night in a 
third-class carriage at Charing Cross, and placed a 
neat little black hand-bag, in which he carried his 
housebreaking tools, on the floor between his feet, 
a small negro boy entered the carriage behind him, 
and, sitting down directly opposite, stared at him ap 
if lost in unutterable amazement. 

Mr. Bones took no notice of the boy at first, but 
became annoyed at last by the pertinacity of his 
attention. 

"Well, you chunk of ebony," he said, "how 
much are you paid a week for starin' ? " 

"No pound no shillin's an' nopence, massa, and 
^.nd myself," replied the negro so promptly that 
Bones smiled in spite of himself. Being, however, 
in no mood for conversation, he looked out at the 
window and let the boy stare to his heart's 
content. 

On drawing up to the platform of the station for 
Eosebud Cottage, Mr. Bones seemed to become 
anxious, stretched his head out at the carriage 
window, and muttered to himself. On getting out, 
he looked round with a disappointed air. 

"Failed me 1" he growled, with an anathema 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 293 

on some one unknown. " Well, I '11 do it alone," 
he muttered, between his teeth. 

"0 no ! you won't, my fine fellow," thought the 
negro boy ; "I '11 help you to do it, and make you do 
it badly, if you do it at all. — May I carry your bag, 
massa ? " he added, aloud. 

Mr. Bones replied with a savage kick, which the 
boy eluded nimbly, and ran with a look of mock 
horror behind a railway van. Here he put both 
hands to his sides, and indulged in a chuckle so 
hearty — though subdued — that an ordinary cat, to 
say nothing of a Cheshire one, might have joined 
him from sheer sympathy. 

" the brute ! " he gasped, on partially recover- 
ing, " and Tottie ! — Tottie ! ! why she's — " Again 
this eccentric boy went off into subdued convulsions, 
in which state he was discovered by a porter, and 
chased off the premises. 

During the remainder of that night the " chunk 
of ebony" followed Mr. Bones like his shadow. 
When he went down to the small public -house of 
the hamlet to moisten his throat with a glass of 
beer, the negro boy waited for him behind a 
hay- stack ; when he left the public-house, and 
took his way towards Eosebud Cottage, the boy 
walked a little behind him — not far behind, for the 
night was dark. When, on consulting his watch, 
with the aid of a match, Bones found that his time 



294 POST HASTE : 

for action had not arrived and sat down by the side 
of a hedge to meditate, the chunk crept through a 
hole in the same hedge, crawled close up like a 
panther, lay down in the grass on the other side, and 
listened. But he heard nothing, for the burglar 
kept his thoughts, whatever they might have been, 
to himself. The hour was too still, the night too 
dark, the scene too ghostly for mutterings. Peering 
through the hedge, which was high and thick, the 
boy could see the red glow of Mr. Bones's pipe. 

Suddenly it occurred to Pax that now was a 
favourable opportunity to test his plan. The hedge 
between him and his victim was impassable to any 
one larger than himself; on his side the ground 
sloped towards a plantation, in which he could 
easily find refuge if necessary. There was no wind. 
Not a leaf stirred. The silence was profound — 
broken only by the puffing of the burglar's lips. 
Little Pax was quick to conceive and act. Suddenly 
he opened his mouth to its widest, took aim where 
he thought the ear of Bones must be, and uttered 
a short, sharp, appalling yell, compared to which 
a shriek of martyrdom must have been as no- 
thing. 

That the effect on Bones was tremendous was 
evinced by the squib-like action of his pipe, as \it 
flew into the air, and the stumbling clatter of his 
feet, as he rushed blindly from the spot. Little 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 205 

Pax rolled on the grass in indescribable ecstasies 
for a few seconds, then crept through the hole, and 
followed his victim. 

But Bones was no coward. He had only been 
taken by surprise, and soon stopped. Still, he was 
sufficiently superstitious to look frequently over his 
shoulder as he walked in the direction of Miss 
Stivergill's Cottage. 

Pax was by that time on familiar ground. Fear- 
ing that Bones was not to be scared from his pur- 
pose by one fright, he made a detour, got ahead of 
him, and prepared to receive him near the old well 
of an adjoining farm, which stood close by the road. 
When the burglar's footsteps became audible, he 
braced himself up. As Bones drew near Pax almost 
burst his little chest with an inhalation. When 
Bones was within three feet of him, he gave vent to 
such a skirl that the burglar's reason was again 
upset. He bounded away, but suddenly recovered 
self-possession, and, turning round, dashed at the 
old well, where Pax had prematurely begun to 
enjoy himself. 

To jump to his feet and run like the wind was 
the work of a moment. Bones followed furiously. 
Eage lent him for the moment unwonted power. 
He kept well up for some distance, growling fiercely 
as he ran, but the lithe limbs and sound lungs of 
the bov were too much for him. He soon fell 



206 POSTHASTE: 

behind, and finally stopped, while Pax ran on until 
out of breath. 

Believing that he had now rid himself of some mis- 
chievous boy of the neighbourhood, the burglar turned 
back to transact his business at Eosebud Cottage. 

Peter Pax also turned in the same direction. 
He felt that things were now beginning to look 
serious. To thwart Mr. Bones in his little game, 
by giving information as to his intentions, would 
have been easy, but then that would have involved 
his being " took," which was not to be thought of. 
At the same time, it was evident that he was no 
longer to be scared by yells. 

Somewhat depressed by his failure. Pax hastened 
towards the cottage as fast as he could, resolved to 
give his enemy a last stunning reception in the 
garden, even although, by so doing, he would pro- 
bably scare Miss Stivergill and her household out 
of their wits. 

He reached the garden some minutes betore 
Bones, and clambered over the wall. While in the 
very act of doing so, he Mt himself seized by the 
throat and nearly strangled. 

" Now then, young 'un," growled a deep voice, 
which was not that of Bones, " what little game may 
you be up to?" 

" Ease your grip and I '11 tell you," gasped Pax. 

It waa the constable of the district who had 



A TALE OF HEE MAJESTY'S MAILS. 297 

caught him. That faithful guardian of the night, 
having heen roused by the unwonted yells, and 
having heard Pax's footsteps, had followed him up. 

" I 'm not a burglar, sir," pleaded Pax, not well 
knowing what to say. Suddenly he opened his 
mouth in desperation, intending to give one final 
yell, which might scare Bones from his impending 
fate, but it was nipped in the bud by the police- 
man's strong hand. 

" Ha ! you 'd give your pal a signal, would you ?'* 
he said, in a gruff whisper. " Come now, keep 
quiet if you don't want to be choked. You can't 
save 'im, so you 'd better give in." 

Poor Pax now saw that nothing more could be 
done. He therefore made a virtue of necessity, and 
revealed as much of the object of his mission as he 
deemed prudent. The man believed him, and, on 
his promising to keep perfectly still, released him 
from his deadly grip. 

While the policeman and the boy lay thus biding 
their time in the shrubbery, Bones got over the 
wall and quietly inspected the premises. 

"I'll let him begin, and take him in the act," 
whispered the policeman. 

" But he 's an awful big, strong, determined feller," 
said Pax. 

" So am I," returned the policeman, with a smile, 
which was lost in t'.t dark. 



298 POST HASTE : 

Now it so happened that Miss Lilly crop, who had 
been spending that day with Miss Stivergill, had 
been induced to spend the night also with her 
friend. Of course these two had much to talk 
about — ladies generally have in such circumstances 
— and they were later than usual in going to bed. 
Mr. Bones was therefore, much against his will, 
obliged to delay the execution of his plans. Little 
dreaming that two admirers lay in ambush about 
fifty »yards off, he retired to a dark corner behind a 
bit of old wall, and there, appropriately screened 
by a laurel bush, lit his pipe and enjoyed himself 

" My dear," said Miss Stivergill to her friend 
about midnight, " we must go to bed. Do you go 
up to my room ; 1 11 follow after looking round." 

It was the nightly practice of this lady to go over 
her premises from cellar to garret, to make quite 
sure that the servant had fastened every bolt and 
bar and lock. She began with the cellar-s. Finding 
everything right there, she went to the dining-room 
windows. 

" Ha ! the gipsy ! — unbolted, and the shutters 
open !" exclaimed Miss Stivergill, fastening the bolt. 

" H'm ! The old fool," thought the burglar, ob- 
serving her tall square figure while thus engaged, 
" might as well bolt the door of Newgate with a steel 
pen. Cottage window-gear is meant for show, not 
for service, old girl." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 299 

'• I , look round regularly every night," observed 
Miss Stivergill, entering her bedroom, in which 
Miss Lillycrop usually occupied a chair bed when 
on a visit to The Eosebud. " You Ve no idea how 
careless servants are (* Haven't I, just ?' thought her 
friend), and although I have no personal fear of 
burglars, I deem it advisable to interpose some 
impediments to their entrance." 

"But what would you do if they did get in?" 
asked Miss Lillycrop, in some anxiety, for she had 
a very strong personal fear of burglars. 

" Oh ! I have several little plans for their re- 
ception," replied the lady, with a quiet smile. 
There 's a bell in the corner there, which was meant 
for the parish church, but was thought to be a little 
too small I bought it, had a handle affixed to it, 
as you see, and should ring it at an open window 
if the house were attempted. 

" But they might rush in at the door and stop 
you — kill you even !" suggested the other, with a 
shudder. 

" Have you not observed," said Miss Stivergill, 
" that I lock my door on the inside ? Besides, I 
have other little appKances which I shall explain to 
you in the morning, for I scorn to be dependent on 
a man-servant for protection. There's a revolver 
in that drawer beside you " — Miss Lillycrop shrank 
from the drawer in a^estion — " but I would only use 



300 POST HASTE : \ 

it in the last extremity, for I am not fond of taking 
human life. Indeed, I would decline to do so even 
to save my own, but I should have no objection to 
maim. Injuries about the legs or feet might do 
burglars spiritual as well as physical good in the 
long-run, besides being beneficial to society. — Now, 
my dear, good-night." 

Miss Stivergill extinguished the candle as 
violently as she would have maimed a burglar, 
and poor Miss Lillycrop's heart leapt as she was 
suddenly plunged into total darkness — for she was 
naturally timid, and could not help it. 

For some time both ladies lay perfectly stiU ; the 
hostess enjoying that placid period which precedes 
slumber; the guest quaking with fear caused by 
the thoughts that the recent conversation had raised. 

Presently Miss Lillycrop raised herself on one 
elbow, and glared in the direction of her friend's 
bed so awfully that her eyes all but shone in the 
dark. 

"Did you hear that, dear?" she asked, in a low 
whisper. 

" Of course I did," replied Miss Stivergill aloud. 
"Hush! Hsten." 

They listened and heard "that" again. There 
could be no doubt about it — a curious scratching 
sound at the dining-room window imniediately 
below theirs. 



A T..\LE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 301 

" Rats," said Miss Stivergill in a low voice. 

"Oh! I do hope so," whispered Miss Lilly crop. 
She entertained an inexpressible loathing of rats, 
but compared with burglars they were as bosom 
friends whom she would have welcomed with a 
glad shudder. 

In a few minutes the scratching ceased and a 
bolt or spring snapped. The wildest of rats never 
made a sound like that! Miss Lillycrop sat bolt 
up in her bed, transfixed with horror, and could 
dimly see her friend spring from her couch and dart 
across the room like a ghostly phantom. 

" Lilly, if you scream," said Miss Stivergill, in a 
voice so low and stern that it caused hei blood to 
curdle, " I'll do something awful to you. — Get 
up!" 

The command was peremptory. Miss Lillycrop 
obeyed. 

" Here, catch hold of the bell-handle — so. Your 
other hand — there — keep the tongue fast in it, and 
don't ring till I give the word." 

Miss Lillycrop was perfect in her docility. 

A large tin tea-tray hung at the side of Miss 
Stivergill's bed. Beside it was a round ball with a 
handle to it. Miss Lillycrop had wondered what 
these were there for. She soon found out. 

Miss Stivergill put the dressing-table a little to 
one side, and placed a ewer of water on it. 



302 POST HASTE : 

At that moment the dining-room window was 
heard to open slowly but distinctly. 

Miss Stivergill threw up the bedroom window. 

The marrow in Miss Lillycrop's spine froze. 

Mr. Bones started and looked up in surprise. 
He received a deluge of water on his face, and at 
the same moment a ewer burst in atoms on the 
gravel at his feet — for Miss Stivergill did 
nothing by halves. But Bones was surprise-proof 
by that time ; besides, the coveted treasure was on 
the side-board — almost within his grasp. He was 
too bold a villain to be frightened by women, and 
he knew that sleeping country-folk are not quickly 
roused to succour the inmates of a lonely cottage. 
Darting into the room, he tumbled over chairs, 
tables, work-boxes, fire-irons, and coal-scuttle. 

"Eing!" said Miss Stivergill sharply. At the 
same moment she seized the tea-tray in her left 
hand and belaboured it furiously with the drum- 
stick. 

"Eing out at the window!" shouted Miss 
Stivergill. 

Miss Lillycrop did so until her spinal marrow 
thawed. 

The noise was worse than appalling. Little Pax, 
unable to express his conflicting emotions in any 
other way, yelled with agonising delight. Even 
the hardened spirit of Bones trembled with mingled 



A TALE OF HER MAJKSTY's MAILS. 303 

feelings of alarm and surprise. He found and 
grasped the coveted box, and leaped out of the 
window with a bound. It is highly probable that 
he would have got clear off but for the involuntary 
action of Miss Lillycrop. As that lady's marrow 
waxed warm she dashed the great bell against the 
window-sill with such fervour that it flew from her 
grasp and descended full on the burglar's cranium, 
just as he leaped into the arms of the policeman, and 
both fell heavily to the ground. The guardian of the 
night immediately jumped up uninjured, but Bones 
lay prone on the green sward — stunned by the bell. 

"That's well done, anyhow, an' saved me a 
world o' trouble," said the constable, looking up at 
the window as he held the burglar down, though 
there was little necessity for that. " You couldn't 
shy me over a bit of rope, could you, ma'am ?" 

Miss Stivergill, to. whom nothing seemed difficult, 
and who had by that time stopped her share in the 
noise, went into a cupboard and fetched thence a 
coil of rope. 

" I meant it to be used in the event of fire," she 
said quietly to her friend, who had thrown herself 
flat on her bed, " but it will serve other purposes as 
well. — There, policeman." 

She threw it down, and when Bones recovered 
consciousness he found himself securely tied and 
seated in a chair in the Eosebud kitchen — the 



304 POST HASTE : 

policeman looking at him with interest, and the 
domestics with alarm. Miss Stivergill regarded 
him with calm severity. 

" Now he's quite safe, ma*am, but I can't venture 
to take 'im to the station alone. If you'll kindly 
consent to keep an eye on him, ma'am, till I run 
down for a comrade, I'll be greatly obleeged. 
There's no fear of his wrigglin' out o' that, ma'am; 
you may make your mind easy." 

"My mind is quite easy, policeman; you may 
go. I shall watch him." 

When the man had left. Miss Stivergill ordered 
the servants to leave the kitchen. Little Pax, who 
had discreetly kept out of range of the burglar's 
eye, went with them, a good deal depressed in spirit, 
for his mission had failed. The burglary had not, 
indeed, been accomplished, but — "father" was 
"took." 

When Miss Stivergill was left alone with the 
burglar she gazed at him for some time in silence. 

" Man," she said at length, " you are little Bones's 
father." 

" If you means Tottie, ma'am, I is," replied 
Bones, with a look and tone which were not 
amiable. 

" I have a strong feeling of regard for your child, 
though not a scrap of pity for yourself," said Miss 
Stivergill, with a frown. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 305 

Mr. Bones muttered something to the effect that 
he returned the compliment with interest. 

" For Tottie's sake I should be sorry to see you 
transported/' continued the lady, " therefore I mean 
to let you off. Moreover, bad as you are, I believe 
you are not so bad as many people would think 
you. Therefore I'm going to trust you." 

Bones looked inquiringly and with some sus- 
picion at his captor. He evidently thought there 
was a touch of insanity about her. This was 
confirmed when Miss Stivergill, seizing a carving- 
knife from the dresser, advanced with masculine 
strides towards him. He made a desperate effort 
to burst his bonds, but they were too scientifically 
arranged for that. "Don't fear," said the lady, 
severing the cord that bound the burglar's wrists, 
and putting the knife in his hands. "Now," she 
added, " you know how to cut yourself free, no 
doubt,'^ 

"Well, you are a trump!" exclaimed Bones, 
rapidly touching his bonds at salient points with 
the keen edge. 

In a few seconds he was free. 

" Now, go away," said Miss Stivergill, " and don't 
let me see you here again." 

Bones looked with admiration at his deliverer, 
but could only find words to repeat that she was 
a trump, and vanished through the back-door just 

u 



30 G POST HASTE : 

as a band of men, with pitchforks, rakv3s, spades, 
and lanterns, came clamouring in at the front 
garden gate from the neighbouring farm. 

"What is it?" exclaimed the farmer. 

" Only a burglar," answered Miss StivergiU. 

"Where is he?" chorussed everybody. 

"That's best known to himself," replied the 
lady, who, in order to give the fugitive time, 
went into a minute and slow account of the whole 
affair — excepting, of course, her connivance at the 
escape — to the great edification of her audience, 
among whom the one who seemed to derive the 
chief enjoyment was a black boy. He endeavoured 
to screen himself behind the labourers, and was 
obviously unable to restrain his glee. 

"But what's come of 'im, ma'am ?" asked the 
farmer impatiently. 

"Escaped!" answered Miss StivergiU. 

" Escaped !" echoed everybody, looking furtively 
round, as though they supposed he had only escaped 
under the dresser or into the keyhole. 

"Escaped!" repeated the policeman, who entered 
at the moment with two comrades , " impossible ! I 
tied 'im so that no efforts of his own could avail 
'im. Somebody must 'ave 'elped 'im." 

" The carving-knife helped him," said Miss Stiver- 
gill, with a look of dignity. — "Perhaps, instead of 
speculating how he escaped, policeman, it would be 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 307 

better to pursue him. He can't be very far off, as 
it is not twenty minutes since he cut himself free." 

In a state of utter bewilderment the policeman 
rushed out of the cottage, followed by his comrades 
and the agriculturists. Peter Pax essayed to go 
with them, but was restrained by an iron grip 
on his collar. Pulling him back, Miss Stivergill 
dragged her captive into a parlour and shut the 
door. 

" Come now, little Pax," she said, setting the 
boy in a chair in front of her, "you needn't try 
to deceive me. I 'd know you among a thousand 
in any disguise. If you were to blacken your face 
with coal-tar an inch thick your impertinence 
would shine through. You know that the burglar 
is little Bones's father ; you 've a pretty good guess 
that I let him off. You have come here for some 
purpose in connection with him. Come — out with 
it, and make a clean breast." 

Little Pax did make a clean breast then and 
there, was washed white, supped and slept at The 
Eosebud, returned to town next day by the first 
train, and had soon the pleasure of informing Tottie 
that the intended burglary had been frustrated, and 
that her father wasn't " took " after all. 



308 POST HAST.Ri : 



CHAPTEE XXII. 

SHOWS HOW ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER, AND SO ON. 

It is a mere truism to state that many a chain 
of grave and far-reaching events is set in motion by 
some insignificant tritie. The touching of a trigger 
by a child explodes a gun which extinguishes a 
valuable life, and perhaps throws a whole neigh- 
bourhood into difficulties. The lighting of a match 
may cause a conflagration which shall " bring down " 
an extensive iirra, some of whose dependants, in 
the retail trade, will go down along with it, and cause 
widespreading distress, if not ruin, among a whole 
army of greengrocers, Duttermen, and other small 
fry. 

The howling of a bad baby was the comparatively 
insignificant event which set going a certain number 
of wheels, whose teeth worked into the cogs which 
revolved in connection with our tale. 

The howling referred to awoke a certain con- 
tractor near Pimlico with a start, and caused him 
to rise off what is popularly known as the '• wrong 



A rXLY. OF HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 309 

side." Being an angry man, the contractor called the 
baby bad names, and would have whipped it had it 
been his own. Going to his ofiice before breakfast* 
with the ell'ects of the howl strong upon him, he 
met a humble labourer there with a surly " Well, 
what do you want V 

The labourer wanted work. The contractor had 
no work to give him. The labourer pleaded that 
his wife and children were starving. The con- 
tractor didn't care a pinch of snuiT for his wife or 
children, and bade him be off. The labourer urged 
that the times were very hard, and he would be 
thankful for any sort of job, no matter how small. 
He endeavoured to work on the contractor's feelings 
by referring to the premature death, by starvation, 
of his pet parrot, which had been for years in the 
family, and a marvellous speaker, having been 
taught by his mate Bill. The said Bill was also out 
of v/ork, and waiting for him outside. He too 
would be thankful for a job — anything would do, 
and they would be willing to work for next to 
nothing. The contractor still professed utter in- 
difference to the labourer's woes, but the incident 
of the parrot had evidently touched a cord which 
could not be affected by human suffering. After 
a few minutes' consideration he said there was a 
small job — a pump at the corner of a certain street 
not far off had to be taken down, to make way 



310 POST HASTE : 

for contemplated alterations. It was not necessary 
to take it down just then, but as the labourers were 
so hard up for a job they were at liberty to undertake 
that one. 

Thus two wheels were set in motion, and the 
result was that the old pump at the corner of Purr 
Street was uprooted and laid low by these labourers, 
one of whom looked into the lower end of the pump 
and said " Hallo !" 

His companion Bill echoed the "Hallo!" and 
added "What's up?" 

" W'y, if there ain't somethink queer inside of the 
old pump," said the labourer, going down on both 
knees in order to look more earnestly into it. " I 
do b'lieve it 's letters. Some double-extra stoopids 
'ave bin an' posted 'em in the pump." 

He pulled out handfuls of letters as he spoke, 
some of which, from their appearance, must have 
lain there for years, while others were quite fresh ! 

A passing letter-carrier took charge of these 
letters, and conveyed them to the Post-Office, where 
the machinery of the department was set in motion 
on them. They were examined, faced, sorted, and 
distributed. Among them was the letter which 
George Aspel had committed to the care of Tottie 
Bones at the time of his first arrival in London, 
and thus it came to pass that the energies of Sir 
James Clubley, Baronet, were roused into action. 



A TALE OF HER majesty's MAILS. 311 

" Dear me ! how strange!" said Sir James to him- 
self, on reading^ the letter. " This unaccountable 
silence is explained at last. Poor fellow, I have 
judged him hastily. Come ! I '11 go find him out." 

But this resolve was more easily made than car- 
ried into effect. At the hotel from which the letter 
had been dated nothing was known of the missing 
youth except that he had departed long long ago, 
leaving as his future address the name of a bird- 
stuffer, which name had unfortunately been mislaid 
— not lost. Oh no — only mislaid ! On further 
inquiry, however, there was a certain undersized, 
plain-looking, and rather despised chamber-maid 
who retained a lively and grateful recollection of 
Mr. Aspel, in consequence of his having given her 
an unexpectedly large tip at parting, coupled with 
a few slight but kindly made inquiries as to her 
welfare, which seemed to imply that he regarded her 
as a human being. She remembered distinctly his 
telling her one evening that if any one should call 
for him in his absence he was to be found at the 
residence of a lady in Cat Street, Pimlico, but for 
the life of her she couldn't remember the number, 
though she thought it must have been number nine, 
for she remembered having connected it in her mind 
with the well-known lives of a cat. 

" Cat Street ! Strange name — very ! " said Sir 
James. " Are you sure it was Cat Street ?" 



312 POSTHASTE: 

" Well, I ain't quite sure, sir," replied the little 
plain one, with an inquiring froAvn at the chandelier, 
" but I know it 'ad somethink to do with cats. 
P'r'aps it was Mew Street ; but I 'm quite sure it was 
Pimlico." 

" And the lady's name ?" 

" Well, sir, I ain't sure of that neither. It was 
somethink queer, I know, but then there 's a-many 
queer names in London — ain't there, sir?" 

Sir James admitted that there were, and advised 
her to reflect on a few of them. 

The little plain one did reflect — with the aid ot 
the chandelier — and came to the sudden conviction 
that the lady's name had to do with flowers. " Not 
roses — no, nor yet violets," she said, with an air of 
intense mental application, for the maiden's memory 
was largely dependent on association of ideas ; 
" it might 'ave been marigolds, though it don't 
seem likely. Stay, was it water-1 — Oh ! it was 
lilies ! Yes, I 'ave it now : Miss Lilies- some- 
think." 

" Think again, now," said the Baronet, "everything 
depends on the ' something,' for Miss Lilies is not 
so extravagantly queer as you seem to think her 
name was." 

"That's true, sir/' said the perplexed maid, with 
a last appealing gaze at the chandelier, and begin- 
ning with the first letter of the alphabet — Miss 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MATT.S. 313 

Lilies A — Lilies B — Lilies C — , etc., until she came 
to K. " That 's it now. I 'ave it almost. It 'ad to 
do with lots of lilies, I 'm quite sure — quantities, it 
must 'ave been." 

On Sir James suggesting that quantities did not 
begin with a K the little plain one's feelings were 
slightly hurt, and she declined to go any further into 
the question. Sir James was therefore obliged to 
rest content with what he had learned, and continued 
his search in Pimlico. There he spent several hours 
in playing, with small shopkeepers and policemen, 
a game somewhat analogous to that which is usually 
commenced with the words "Is it animal, vege- 
table, or mineral?" The result was that eventually 
he reached No. 9 Purr Street, and found himself in 
the presence of Miss Lilly crop. 

That lady, however, damped his rising hopes by 
saying that she did not know where George Aspel 
was to be found, and that he had suddenly dis- 
appeared — to her intense regret — from the bird- 
warehouse in which he had held a situation. It 
belonged to the brothers Blurt, whose address she 
gave to her visitor. 

Little Tottie Bones, who had heard the conversa- 
tion through the open parlour door, could have told 
where Aspel was to be found, but the promise made 
to her father sealed her lips ; besides, particular 
inquiries after any one were so suggestive to her of 



314 POST HASTE : 

policemen, and being "took/' that she had a double 
motive to silence. 

Mr. Enoch Blurt could throw no light on the 
subject, but he could, and did, add to Sir James's 
increasing knowledge of the youth's reported dissi- 
pation, and sympathised with him strongly in his 
desire to find out Aspel's whereabouts. Moreover, 
he directed him to the General Post-Office, where a 
youth named Maylands, a letter-sorter — who had 
formerly been a telegraph message-boy, — and an 
intimate friend of Aspel, was to be found, and might 
be able to give some information about him, though 
he (Mr. Blurt) feared not. 

Phil Maylands could only say that he had never 
ceased to make inquiries after his friend, but hitherto 
without success, and that he meant to continue his 
inquiries until he should find him. 

Sir James Clubley therefore returned in a state 
of dejection to the sympathetic Miss Lilly crop, who 
gave him a note of introduction to a detective — the 
grave man in grey, — a particular friend and ally of 
her own, with whom she had scraped acquaintance 
during one of her many pilgrimages of love and 
mercy among the poor. 

To the man in grey Sir James committed his 
case, and left him to work it out. 

Now, the way of a detective is a mysterious way. 
Far be it from us to presume to point it out, or 



A TALE OK HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 315 

elucidate or expound it in any degree. We can 
only give a vague, incomplete, it may be even 
incorrect, view of what the man in grey did and 
achieved, nevertheless we are bound to record what 
we know as to this officer s proceedings, inasmuch 
as they have to do with the thread of our narra- 
tive. 

It may be that other motives, besides those con- 
nected with George Aspel, induced the man in 
grey to visit the General Post- Office, but we do 
not certainly know. It is quite possible that a 
whole host of subsidiary and incidental cases on 
hand might have induced him to take up the Post- 
Office like a huge stone, wherewith to knock down 
innumerable birds at one and the same throw ; we 
cannot tell. The brain of a detective must be essen- 
tially different from the brains of ordinary men. 
His powers of perception — we might add, of con- 
ception, reception, deception, and particularly of 
interception — are marvellous. They are altogether 
too high for us. How then can we be expected to 
explain why it was that, on arriving at the Post- 
Office, the man in grey, instead of asking eagerly 
for George Aspel at the Inquiry Office, or the Pte- 
turned Letter Office, or the jposte restante, as any 
sane man would have done, began to put careless 
and apparently unmeaning questions about little 
dogs, and to manifest a desire to be shown the chief 



316 POSTHASTE: 

points of interest in the basement of St. Martin's-le- 
Grand ? 

In the gratifying of his desires the man in 
grey experienced no difficulty. The staff of the 
Post- Office is unvaryingly polite and obliging to 
the public. An order was procured, and he soon 
found himself with a guide traversing the myste- 
rious regions underneath the splendid new build- 
ing where the great work of postal telegraphy is 
carriea on. 

While his conductor led him through the laby- 
rinthine passages in which a stranger would infal- 
libly have lost his way, he explained the various 
objects of interest — especially pointing out the 
racks where thousands on thousands of old tele- 
grams are kept, for a short time, for reference in 
case of dispute, and then destroyed. He found the 
man in grey so intelligent and sympathetic that he 
quite took a fancy to him. 

" Do you happen to remember," asked the detec- 
tive, in a quiet way, during a pause in his com- 
panion's remarks, " anything about a mad dog 
taking refuge in this basement some time ago — a 
small poodle I think it was — which disappeared 
in some mysterious way ?" 

The conductor had heard a rumour of such an 
event, but had been ill and off duty at the time, 
and could give him no details. 



A TALE OF HER majesty's MAILS. 317 

" Tliis," said he, opening a door, " is the Battery 
Room, where the electricity is generated for the in- 
struments above. — Allow me to introduce you to 
the Battery Inspector." 

The man in grey bowed to the Inspector, who 
was a tall, powerful man, quite fit, apparently, to 
take charge of a battery of horse artillery if need 
were. 

" A singular place," remarked the detective, look- 
ing sharply round the large room, whose dimensions 
were partially concealed, however, by the rows of 
shelving which completely filled it from floor to 
ceiling. 

"Somewhat curious," assented the Inspector; 
"you see our batteries require a good deal of 
shelving. All put together, there is in this room 
about three miles of shelving, completely filled, as 
you see, with about 22,000 cells or jars. The elec- 
tricity is generated in these jars. They contain 
carbon and zinc plates in a solution of bichromate 
of potash and sulphuric acid and water. We fill 
them up once every two weeks, and renew the 
plates occasionally. There is a deal of sulphate of 
copper used up here, sir, in creating electricity — 
about six tons in the year. Pure copper accu- 
mulates on the plates in the operation, but the zinc 
wears away." 

The detective expressed real astonishment and 



318 POSTHASTE: 

interest in all this, and much more that the In- 
spector told him. 

" Poisonous stuff in your jars, I should fancy ?" 
he inquired. 

" Eather," replied the Inspector. 

" Does your door ever stand open V asked the 
detective. 

" Sometimes," said the other, with a look of 
slight surprise. 

" You never received a visit down here from a 
mad dog, did you?" asked the man in grey. 

" Never !" 

" I only ask the question," continued the other, 
in a careless tone, " because I once read in the 
newspapers of a poodle being chased into the Post- 
Office, and never heard of again. It occurred to 
me that poison might account for it. — ^A curious- 
looking thing here ; what is it?" 

He had come to a part of the Battery Eoom 
where there was a large frame or case of dark 
wood, the surface of which was covered with in- 
numerable brass knobs or buttons, which were 
coupled together by wires. 

" That is our Battery Test-Box," explained the 
Inspector. "There are four thousand wires con- 
nected with it — two thousand going to the instru- 
ments up-stairs, and two thousand connected with 
the battery jars. When I complete the circuit by 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 319 

connecting any couple of these buttons, the influ- 
ence of the current is at once perceived." 

He took a piece of charcoal, as he spoke, and 
brought it into contact with two of the knobs. The 
result was to convert the coal instantly into an in- 
tense electric light of dazzling beauty. The point 
of an ordinary lead pencil applied in the same way 
became equally brilliant. 

" That must be a powerful battery," remarked the 
detective. 

The Inspector smilingly took two handles from a 
neighbouring shelf and held them out to his visitor. 

" Lay hold of these," he said, " and you wiU feel 
its powers." 

The detective did as directed, and received a 
shock which caused him to fling down the handles 
with great promptitude and violence. He was 
too self-possessed a man, however, to seem put out. 

" Strong !" he said, with a short laugh ; " remark- 
ably strong and effective." 

" Yes," assented the Inspector, " it is pretty power- 
ful, and it requires to be so, for it does heavy 
work and travels a considerable distance. The 
greater the distance, you know, the greater the 
power required to do the work and transmit the 
messages. This is the battery that fires two signal- 
guns every day at one o'clock — one at Newcastle, 
the other at South Shields, and supplies Greenwich 



320 POST HASTE : 

time to all our principal stations over a radius of 
three hundred miles. — I sent the contents of one 
hundred and twenty jars through you just now !" 

" That 's curious and interesting ; I may even 
say it is suggestive," returned the detective, in a 
meditative tone. ''Double that number of jars, 
now, applied to the locks of sti;eet doors at night 
and the fastenings of windows would give a power- 
ful surprise to burglars." 

" Ah, no doubt, and also to belated friends," said 
the Inspector, " not to mention the effect on 
servant-maids in the morning when people forgot 
to disconnect the wires." 

The man in grey admitted the truth of the 
observation, and, thanking the Battery Inspector 
for his kind attentions, bade him a cordial adieu. 
Continuing his investigation of the basement, he 
came to the three huge fifty-horse-power engines, 
whose duty it is to suck the air from the pneumatic 
telegraph tubes in the great hall above. Here the 
detective became quite an engineer, asked with 
much interest and intelligence about governors, 
pistons, escape-valves, actions, etc., and wound up 
with a proposition. 

" Suppose, now," he said, " that a little dog were 
to come suddenly into this room and dash about 
in a miscellaneous sort of way, could it by any 
means manage to become entangled in your 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAIL3. 321 

machinery and get so demolished as never more 
to be seen or heard of?" 

The engineer looked at his questioner with a 
somewhat amused expression. "No, sir, I don't 
think it could. No doubt it might kill itself with 
much facility in various ways, for fifty horse- 
power, properly applied, would do for an elephant, 
much more a dog, but I don't believe that power to 
be sufficient to produce annihilation. There would 
have been remains of some sort." 

From the engine-room our detective proceeded 
to the boiler-room and the various kitchens, and 
thence to the basement of the old building on 
the opposite side of the street, where he found a 
similarly perplexing labyrinth. He was taken in 
hand here by Mr. Bright, who chanced to be on 
duty, and led him first to the Stamp Department. 
There was much to draw him off his "canine" 
mania here. First he was introduced to the chief 
of the department, who gave. him much interesting 
information about stamps in general. 

Then he was conducted to another room, and 
shown the tables at which men were busy counting 
sheets of postage-stamps and putting them up in 
envelopes for all parts of the United Kingdom. 
The officer in charge told him that the weight of 
stamps sent out from that room averaged a little 
over three tons daily, and that the average value of 

X 



322 POST HASTE : 

the weekly issue was £150,000. Then he was led 
into a fireproof safe — a solid stone apartment — 
which was piled from floor to ceiling with sheets 
of postage-stamps of different values. Those for 
letters ranged from one halfpenny to one pound, 
but those used for telegrams ran up to as much 
as five pounds sterling for a single stamp. Taking 
down from a shelf a packet of these high-priced 
stamps, which was about the size of a thick 
octavo book, the official stated that it was worth 
£35,000. 

"Yes, sir," he added, "this strong box ol ours 
holds a deal of money. You are at this moment in 
the presence of nearly two millions sterling !" 

" A tidy little sum to retire upon. Would build 
two thousand Board Schools at a thousand pounds 
each," said the detective, who was an adept at 
figures, — as at everything else. 

Feeling that it would be ridiculous to inquire 
about mad dogs in the presence of two millions 
sterling, the man in grey suffered himself to be 
led through long passages and vaulted chambers, 
some of which latter were kitchens, where the rften 
on duty had splendid fires, oceans of hot water, 
benches and tables, and liberty to cook the food 
either brought by themselves for the day or pro- 
cured from a caterer on the premises — for Post- 
Office officials when on duty may not leave the 



A TALE OF HEE MAJESTY'S MAILS. 323 

premises for any purpose whatever, eoicept duty, and 
must sign books specifyiug to the minute when, 
where, and why, they come and go. In this 
basement also, as in the other, were long rows 
of numbered cupboards or large pigeon-holes with 
lockable doors, one of which was appropriated to 
each man for the safe depositing of his victuals and 
other private property. 

Here, too, were whitewashed lavatories conveni- 
ently and plentifully distributed, with every ap- 
pliance for cleanliness and comfort, including a large 
supply of fresh and good water. Of this, 49,000 
gallons a day is supplied by an artesian well, and 
39,000 gallons a day by the New Eiver Company, in 
the new building. In the old building the 27,000 
gallons consumed daily is supplied by the New 
Eiver Company. It is, however, due to the 5900 
human beings who labour in both buildings to state 
that at least 55,000 of these gallons are swallowed 
by steam-engines on the premises. 

To all these things Mr. Bright directed attention 
with professional zeal, and the man in grey observed 
with much interest all that he saw and heard, until 
he came to the letter-carriers' kitchen, where several 
of the men were cooking food at the lire, while 
others were eating or chatting at the tables. 

Happening to mention the dog here, he found that 
Mr. Bright was partially acquainted with the incident 



324 POST HASTE : 

" It was down these stairs it ran," he said, " and 
was knocked on the head in this very room by 
the policeman. No one knows where he took the 
body to, but he went out at that door, in the 
direction, it is supposed, of the boiler-hoi se." 

The detective had at last got hold of a clew. He 
was what is styled, in a well-known game, " getting 
warm." 

" Let us visit the boiler-house," he said. 

Again, for the nonce, he became an engineer. 
Like Paul, he was all things to all men. He was 
very affable to the genial stoker, who was quite 
communicative about the boilers. After a time the 
detective referred to the dog, and the peculiar 
glance of the stoker at once showed him that his 
object was gained. 

"A policeman brought it?" he asked quietly. 

"Yes, a policeman brought it," said the stoker 
suspiciously. 

The man in grey soon, however, removed his 
suspicions and induced him to become confidential. 
Wlien he had obtained all the information that the 
stoker could give — in addition to poor Floppert's 
collar, which had no name on it, but was stamped 
with three stars on its inside — the detective ceased 
to make any further inquiries after mad dogs, and, 
with a disengaged mind, accompanied Mr. Bright 
through the remainder of the basement, where) he 



A TALE OF HEE MAJESTYS MAILS. 325 

commented on the wise arrangement of having the 
mail-hags made hy convicts, and on the free library, 
which he pronounced a magnificent institution, and 
which contained about 2000 volumes, that were said 
by the courteous librarian to be largely used by 
the ojfficials, as well as the various newspapers and 
magazines, furnished gratuitously by their pro- 
prietors. He was also shown the " lifts," which 
raised people — to say nothing of mails, etc. — from 
the bottom to the top of the building, or vice versa ; 
the small steam-engine which worked the same, and 
the engineer of which — an old servant — was par- 
ticularly impressive on the peculiar " governor " by 
which his engine was regulated ; the array of letter 
stampers, which were kept by their special guardian 
in immaculate order and readiness ; the fire-hose, 
which was also ready for instant service, and the 
firemen, who were in constant attendance with a 
telegraphic instrument at their special disposal, 
connecting them with other parts of the building. 
All this, and a great deal more which we have not 
space to mention, the man in grey saw, admired, 
and commented on, as well as on the general evi- 
dence of order, method, regularity, neatness, and 
system which pervaded the whole place. 

" You manage things well here," he said to his 
conductor at parting. 

'' We do," responded Mr. Bright, with an approv- 



326 POST HASTE : 

ing nod ; " and we had need to, for* the daily 
despatch of Her Majesty's mails to all parts of the 
world is no child's play. Our motto is — or ought 
to be — ' Security, Celerity, Punctuality, and Eegular- 
ity.' We couldn't carry that out, sir, without good 
management. — Good-bye." 

" Good-bye, and thank you," said the detective, 
leaving St. Martin's-le-Grand with his busy brain 
ruminating on a variety of subjects in a manner 
that no one but a detective could by any possibility 
understand. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 327 



CHAPTER XXIII. 



THE TURNING-POINT. 



As time advanced Philip May lands' circum- 
stances improved, for Phil belonged to that class of 
which it is sometimes said " they are sure to get 
on." He was thorough- going and trustworthy — two 
qualities these which the world cannot do without, 
and which, being always in demand, are nevei 
found begging. 

Phil did not " set up " for anything. He assumed 
no airs of superior sanctity. He did not even aim 
at being better than others, though he did aim, 
daily, at being better than he was. In short, the 
lad, having been trained in ways of righteousness, 
and having the Word of God as his guide, advanced 
steadily and naturally along the narrow way that 
leads to life. Hence it came to pass in the course 
of time that he passed from the ranks of Out-door 
Boy Telegraph Messenger to that of Boy Sorter, 
wdth a wage of twelve shillings a week, which was 
raised to eighteen shillings. His hours of attend- 
ance at the Circulation Department were from 4.30 



328 POST HASTE: 

in the morning till 9 ; and from 4.30 in the 
evening till 8. These suited him T^ell, for he 
had ever been fond of rising with the lark while 
at home, and had no objection to rise before the 
lark in London. The evening being free he devoted 
to study — for Phil was one of that by no means small 
class of youths who, in default of a College educa- 
tion, do their best to train themselves, by the aid of 
books and the occasional help of clergymen, philan- 
thropists, and evening classes. 

In all this Phil was greatly assisted by his sister 
May, who, although not much more highly educated 
than himself, was quick of perception, of an in- 
quiring mind, and a sympathetic soul. He was 
also somewhat assisted, and, at times, not a little 
retarded, by his ardent admirer Peter Pax, who 
joined him enthusiastically in his studies, but, being 
of a discursive and enterprising spirit, was prone to 
tempt him off the beaten paths of learning into the 
thickets of speculative philosophy. 

One evening Pax was poring over a problem in 
Euclid with his friend in Pegaway Hall. 

" Phil," he said uneasily, " drop your triangles a 
bit and listen. Would you think it dishonest to 
keep a thing secret that ought to be known ?" 

" That depends a good deal on what the secret is, 
and what I have got to do with it," replied Phil. 
'^But why do you ask?" 



A TALE OF IIKH MAJESTY's MAILS. 329 

" Because I Ve been keeping a secret a long time 
— much against my will — an' I can stand it no 
longer. If I don't let it out, it '11 bu'st me — besides, 
I 've got leave to tell it." 

" Out with it, then, Pax ; for it 's of no use trying 
to keep down things that don't agree with you." 

" Well, then," said Pax, " I know where George 
Aspel is !" 

Phil, who had somewhat unwillingly withdrawn 
his mind from Euclid, turned instantly with an 
eagjer look towards his little friend. 

" Ah, I thought that would rouse you," said the 
latter, with a look of unwonted earnestness on his 
face. " You must know, Phil, that a long while ago — 
just about the time of the burglary at Miss Stiver- 
gill's cottage — I made the amazin' discovery that 
little Tottie Bones is Mariar — alias Merry, — the 
little baby-cousin I was nuss to in the country long 
ago, whom I 've often spoke to you about, and from 
whom I was torn when she had reached the tender 
age of two or thereby. It follows, of course, that 
Tottie's father — old Bones — is my uncle, alias 
Blackadder, alias the Brute, of whom I have also 
made mention, and who, it seems, came to London 
to try his fortune in knavery after havin' failed in 
the country. I saw him once, I believe, at old 
Blurt's bird-shop, but did not recognise 'im at the 
time, owin' to his hat bein' pulled well over his 



330 POST HASTE : 

eyes, though 1 rather think he must iiave recognised 
me. The second time I saw him was when Tottie 
came to me for help and set me on his tracks, when 
he was goin to commit the burglary on Rosebud Cot- 
tage. I 've told you all about that, but did not tell 
you that the burglar was Tottie's father, as Tottie 
had made me promise not to mention it to any 
one. I knew the rascal at once on seeing him in 
the railway carriage, and could hardly help explodin' 
in his face at the fun of the affair. Of course he 
didn't know me on account of my bein' as black in 
the face as the King of Dahomey. — AVell," continued 
Pax, warming with his subject, " it also follows, as 
a matter of course, that Mrs. Boues is my blessed 
old aunt Georgie — now changed into Molly, on 
account, no doubt, of the Brute's desire to avoid the 
attentions of the police. Now, as I 've a great 
regard for aunt Georgie, and have lost a good deal 
of my hatred of the Brute, and find myself fonder 
than ever of Tottie — I beg her pardon, of Merry — 
I've been rather intimate — indeed, I may say, 
pretty thick — with the Boneses ever since ; and as I 
am no longer a burden to the Brute — can even help 
'im a little — he don't abominate me as much as he 
used to. They 're wery poor — awful poor — are the 
Boneses. The Brute still keeps up a fiction of a 
market-garden and a dairy — the latter bein' sup- 
plied by a cow and a pump — but it don't pay, and 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 331 

the business in the city, whatever it may be, seems 
equally unprofitable, for their town house is not a 
^iosirable residence." 

" This is all very interesting and strange, Pax, 
but what has it to do with George Aspel?" asked 
Phil. "You know I'm very anxious about him, 
and have long been hunting after him. Indeed, I 
wonder that you did not tell me about him before." 

" How could I/' said Pax, " when Tot — I mean 
Merry — no, I '11 stick to Tottie : it comes more 
latural than the old name — told me not for worlds 
:o mention it. Only now, after pressin' her and aunt 
jreorgie wery hard, have I bin allowed to let it out, 
pr poor Aspel himself don't want his whereabouts 
to be known." 

" Surely !" exclaimed Phil, with a troubled, anxious 
lir, "he has not become a criminal" 
■ "'Ng. Auntie assures me he has not, but he is 
5unk very low, drinks hard to drown his sorrow, and 
s ashamed to be seen. No wonder. You 'd scarce 
j:now 'im, Phil, workin' like a coal-heaver, in a suit 
)f dirty fustian, about the wharves — tryin' to keep 
>ut of sight. I 've come across 'im once or twice, 
)ut pretended not to recognise 'im. Now, Phil," 
,dded little Pax, with deep earnestness in his face, as 
e laid his hand impressively on his friend's arm, " we 
aust save these two men somehow — you and I." 

" Yes, God helping us, we must," said Phil. 



332 POST haste: : 

From that moment Philip May lands and Peter 
Pax passed, as it were, into a more earnest sphere 
of life, a higher stage of manhood. The influence 
of a powerful motive, a settled purpose, and a great 
end, told on their characters to such an extent that 
they both seemed to have passed over the period of 
hobbledehoyhood at a bound, and become young men. 

With the ardour of youth, they set out on their 
mission at once. That very night they went together 
to the wretched abode of Abel Bones, having pre- 
viously, however, opened their hearts and minds to 
May May lands, from whom, as they had expected, 
they received warm encouragement. 

Little did these unsophisticated youths know 
what a torrent of anxiety, grief, fear, and hope their 
communication sent through the heart of poor May. 
The eager interest she manifested in their plans 
they regarded as the natural outcome of a kind heart 
towards an old friend and playfellow. So it was, 
but it was more than that ! 

The same evening George Aspel and Abel Bones 
were seated alone in their dismal abode in Arch- 
angel Court. There were tumblers and a pot of 
beer before them, but no food. Aspel sat with his 
elbows on the table, grasping the hair on his 
temples with both hands. The other sat with arms 
crossed, and his chin sunk on his chest, gazing 
gloomily but intently at his companion. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 333 

Eemorse — that most awful of the ministers of 
vengeance — had begun to torment Abel Bones. 
When he saved Tottie from the fire, Aspel had him- 
self unwittingly unlocked the door in the burglar's 
soul which let the vengeful minister in. Thereafter 
^liss Stivergill's illustration of mercy, for the 
sake of another, had set the unlocked door ajar, 
and the discovery that his ill-treated little nephew 
had nearly lost his life in the same cause, had 
pulled the door well back on its rusty hinges. 

Having thus obtained free entrance, Eemorse sat 
down and did its work with terrible power. Bones 
was a man of tremendous passions and powerful 
will. His soul revolted violently from the mean 
part he had been playing. Although he had not 
succeeded in drawing Aspel into the vortex of crime 
as regards human law, he had dragged him very low, 
and, especially, had fanned the flame of thirst for 
strong drink, which was the youth's chief — at least 
his most dangerous — enemy. His thirst was an 
inheritance from his forefathers, but the sin of giving 
way to it — of encouraging it at first when it had no 
power, and then of gratifying it as it gained strength, 
until it became a tyrant — was all his own. Aspel 
knew this, and the thought filled him with despair 
as he sat there with his now scarred and roughened 
fingers almost tearing out his hair, while his blood- 
shot eyes stared stonily at the blank wall opposite. 



334 POST HASTE : 

Bones continued to gaze at his companion, and 
to wish with all his heart that he had never met 
him. He had, some time before that, made up his 
mind to put no more temptation in the youth's way. 
He now went a step further — he resolved to attempt 
the task of getting him out of the scrapes into which 
he had dragged him. But he soon found that the 
will which had always been so powerful in the 
carrying out of evil was wofuUy weak in the 
unfamiliar effort to do good ! 

Still, Bones had made up his mind to try. With 
this end in view he proposed a walk in the street, 
the night being fine. Aspel sullenly consented.. 
The better to talk the matter over, Bones proposed 
to retire to a quiet thougli not savoury nook by the 
river-side. Aspel objected, and proposed a public- 
house instead, as being more cheerful. 

Just opposite that public-house there stood one 
of those grand institutions which are still in their 
infancy, but which, we are persuaded, will yet take 
a prominent part in the rescue of thousands of 
mankind from the curse of strong drink. It was 
a "public house without drink" — a coffee-tavern, 
where working men could find a cheap and whole- 
sonie meal, a cheerful, warm, and well-lit room 
wherein to chat and smoke, and the daily papers, 
without being obliged to swallow fire-water for the 
good of the house. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 335 

Bones looked at the coffee-house, and thought of 
suggesting it to his companion. He even willed to 
do so, but, alas ! his will in this matter was as weak 
as the water which he mingled so sparingly with his 
grog. Shame, which never troubled him much 
when about to take a vicious course, suddenly 
became a giant, and the strong man became weak 
like a little child. He followed Aspel into the 
public-house, and the result of this first effort at 
reformation was chat both men returned home drunk. 

It seemed a bad beginning, but it was a begin- 
ning, and as such was not to be despised. 

^\^ien Phil and Pax reached Archangel Court, 
a-glow with hope and good resolves, they found the 
subjects of their desires helplessly asleep in a corner 
of the miserable room, with Mrs. Bones preparing 
some warm and wholesome food against the period 
of their recovery. 

It was a crushiug blow to their new-born hopes. 
Poor little Pax had entertained sanguine expecta- 
tions of the effect of an appeal from Phil, and lost 
heart completely. Phil was too much cast down by 
the sight of his friend to be able to say much, but 
he had a more robust spirit than his little friend, 
and besides, had strong faith in the power and will- 
ingness of God to use even weak and sinful instru- 
ments for the accomplishment of His purposes of 
mercy. 



336 POSTHASTE: 

Afterwards, in talking over the subject with his 
friend Sterling, the city missionary, he spoke hope- 
fully about Aspel, but said that he did not expect 
any good could be done until they got him out of 
his miserable position, and away from the society 
of Bones. 

To his great surprise the missionary did not 
agree with him in this. 

" Of course," he said, " it is desirable that Mr 
Aspel should be restored to his right position in 
society, and be removed from the bad influence of 
Bones, and we must use all legitimate means for 
those ends ; but we must not fall into the mistake 
of supposing that ' no good can be done ' by the 
Almighty to His sinful creatures even in the worst of 
circumstances. No relatives or friends solicited the 
Prodigal Son to leave the swine-troughs, or dragged 
him away. It was God who put it into his heart 
to say ' I will arise and go to my father.' It was- 
God who gave him ' power to will and to do.' " 

"Would you then advise that we should do 
nothing for him, and leave him entirely in the hands 
of God ? " asked Phil, with an uncomfortable feeling 
of surprise. 

" By no means," replied the missionary. " I only 
combat your idea that no good can be done to him 
if he is left in his present circumstances. But we 
are bound to use every influence we can bring to 



A TALE OF HEK xMAJKSTY'S MAILS. 337 

bear in his behalf, and we must pray that success 
may be granted to our efforts to bring him to the 
Saviour. Means must be used as if means could 
accomplish all, but means must not be depended on, 
for ' it is God who giveth us the victory.' The most 
appropriate and powerful means applied in the 
wisest manner to your friend would be utterly 
ineffective unless the Holy Spirit gave him a recep- 
tive heart. This is one of the most difficult lessons 
that you and I and all men have to learn, Phil — 
that God must be all in all, and man nothing what- 
ever but a willing instrument. Even that mysteri- 
ous willingness is not of ourselves, for ' it is God 
who maketh us both to will and to do of His good 
pleasure.' ' Without me,' says Jesus, * ye can do 
nothing,' A rejecter of Jesus, therefore, is helpless 
for good, yet responsible." 

" That is hard to understand," said Phil, with a 
perplexed look. 

" The reverse of it is harder to understand, as you 
will find if you choose to take the trouble to think 
it out," replied the missionary. 

Phil Maylands did take the trouble to think it 
out. One prominent trait in his character was an 
intense reverence for truth — any truth, everv truth 
— a strong tendency to distinguish between truth 

Fnd error in all things that chanced to come 
nder his observation, but especially in those 



338 POST HASTE . 

things which his mother had taught him, from 
earliest infancy, to regard as the most important 
of all. 

Many a passer-by did Phil jostle on his way to 
the Post-0 ffice that day, after his visit to the mis- 
sionary, for it was the first time that his mind had 
been turned, earnestly at least, to the subject of 
God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. 

" Too deep by far for boys," we hear some reader 
mutter. And yet that same reader, perchance, 
teaches her little ones to consider the great face 1 
that God is One in Three ! 

No truth is too deep for boys and girls to consider, 
if they only approach it in a teachable, reverent 
spirit, and are brought to it by their teacher in a 
prayerful spirit. But fear not, reader. We do not 
mean to inflict on you a dissertation on the mys- 
terious subject referred to. We merely state the 
fact that Phil Maylands met it at this period of his 
career, and, instead of shelving it — as perhaps too 
many do — as a too difficult subject, which might lie 
over to a more convenient season, tackled it with 
all the energy of his nature. He went first to his 
closet and his knees, and then to his Bible. 

" To the law and to the testimony " used to be 
Mrs. Maylands' watchword in all her battles with 
Doubt. " To whom shall we go," she was wont to 
say, " if we go not to the Word of God ?" 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 339 

Phil therefore searched the Scripture. Not being 
a Greek scholar, he sought help of those who were 
learned — both personally and through books. Thus 
he got at correct renderings, and by means of diction- 
aries ascertained the exact meanings of words. By 
study he got at what some have styled the general 
spirit of Scripture, and by reading loth sides of 
controverted points he ascertained the thoughts of 
various minds. In this way he at length became 
" fully persuaded in his own mind " that God's 
sovereignty and man's responsibility are facts taught 
in Scripture, and affirmed by human experience, 
and til at they form a great unsolvable mystery — 
unsolvable at least by man in his present condition 
of existence. 

This not only relieved his mind greatly, by con- 
vincing him that, the subject being bottomless, it 
was useless to try to get to the bottom of it, and 
wise to accept it " as a little child," but it led him 
also to consider that in the Bible there are two 
kinds of mysteries, or deep things — the one kind 
being solvable, the other unsolvable. He set himself, 
therefore, diligently to discover and separate the one 
kind from the other, with keen interest. 

But this is by the way. Phil's greatest anxiety 
and care at that time was the salvation of his old 
friend and former idol, George Aspel. 



340 POST HASTE 



CHAPTEE XXIV. 



PLANS AND COUNTER PLANS. 



One evening Phil sat in the sorting-room of the 
General Post-Office with his hand to his head — for 
the eight o'clock mail was starting ; his head, eyes, 
and hands had been unusually active during the 
past two hours, and when the last bundle of letters 
dropped from his fingers into the mail-bags, head, 
eyes, and hands were aching. 

A row of scarlet vans was standing under a 
platform, into which mail-bags, apparently innu- 
merable, were being shot. As each of these vans 
received its quota it rattled off to its particular 
railway station, at the rate which used, in the olden 
time, to be deemed the extreme limit of "haste, 
haste, post haste." The yard began to empty when 
eight o'clock struck. A few seconds later the last 
of the scarlet vans drove off; and about forty tons 
of letters, etc., were flying from the great centre to 
the circumference of the kin<]jdom. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 341 

Phil still sat pressing the aching fingers to the 
aching head and eyes, when he was roused by a 
touch on the shoulder. It was Peter Pax, who 
had also, by that time, worked his way upwards in 
the service. 

" Tired, Phil?" asked Pax. 

"A little, but it soon passes off," said Phil 
Kghtly, as he rose. " There 's no breathing-time, 
you see, towards the close, and it's the pace that 
kills in everything." 

"Are you going to Pegaway Hall to-night?" 
asked Pax, " because, if so, I '11 go with you, bein', 
so to speak, in a stoodious humour myself." 

" No, I 'm not going to study to-night, — don't 
feel up to it. Besides, I want to visit Mr. Blurt. 
The book he lent me on Astronomy ought to be 
returned, and I want to borrow another. — Come, 
you'll go with me." 

After exchanging some books at the library in the 
basement, which the man in grey had styled a 
" magnificent institootion," the two friends left the 
Post-Offi.ce together. 

" Old ]Mr. Blurt is fond of you. Pax." 

" That shows him to be a man of good taste," 
said Pax, "and his lending you and me as many 
books as we want proves him a man of good sense. 
D' you know, Phil, it has sometimes struck me 
that, what between our Post- Office library and the 



342 POST HASTE : 

liberality of Mr. Blurt and a few other friends, you 
and I are rather lucky dogs in the way of literature." 

" We are," assented Phil. 

"And ought, somehow, to rise to somethin', some 
time or other," said Pax. 

" We ought — and will," replied the other, with a 
laugh. 

" But do you know," continued Pax, with a sigh, 
"I've at last given up all intention of aiming at 
the Postmaster -Generalship." 

"Indeed, Pax!" 

'' Yes. It wouldn't suit me at all. You see I 
was born and bred in the country, and can't stand 
a city life. No ; my soul — small though it be — is 
too large for London. The metropolis can't hold 
me, Phil. If I were condemned to live in London 
all my life, my spirit would infallibly bu'st its shell 
an' blow the bricks and mortar around me to 
atoms." 

" That 's strange now ; it seems to me. Pax, that 
London is country and town in one. Just look at 
the Parks." 

" Pooh ! flat as a pancake. ISTo ups and downs, 
no streams, no thickets, no wild-flowers worth men- 
tioning — nothin' wild whatever 'cept the child'n," 
returned Pax, contemptuously. 

"But look at the Serpentine, and the Thames, 
and—" 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 343 

" Bah !" interrupted Pax, " would you compare 
the Thames with the clear, flowing, limpid — " 

" Come now, Pax, don't become poetical, it 
isn't your forte ; but listen while I talk of matters 
more important. You 've sometimes heard me men- 
tion my mother, haven't you ?" 

" I have — with feelings of poetical reverence," 
answered Pax. 

" Well, my mother has been writing of ilate in 
rather low spirits about her lonely condition in 
that wild place on the west coast of Ireland. 
Now, Mr. Blurt has been groaning much lately 
as to his having no female relative to whom he 
could trust his brother Fred. You know he is 
obliged to look after the shop, and to go out a 
good deal on business, during which times Mr. 
Fred is either left alone, or under the care of 
Mrs. Murridge, who, though faithful, is old and 
deaf and stupid. Miss Lillycrop would have been 
available once, but ever since the fire she has been 
appropriated— along with Tottie Bones — by that 
female Trojan Miss Stivergill, and dare not hint at 
leaving her. It's a good thing for her, no doubt, 
but it's unfortunate for Mr. Fred. Now, do you 
see anything in the mists of that statement?" 

"Ah — yes — ^jnst so," said Pax; "Mr. Blurt wants 
help ; mother wants cheerful society. A sick-room 
ain't the perfection of gaiety, no doubt, but it 's 



344 POST HASTE : 

better than the west coast of Ireland — at least as 
depicted by you. Yes, somethin' might come o' that." 

" More may come of it than you think, Pax. 
You see I want to provide some sort of home for 
George Aspel to come to when we save him — for 
we 're sure to save him at last. I feel certain of 
that," said Phil, with something in his tone that 
did not quite correspond to his words — "quite 
certain of that," he repeated, "God helping us. 
I mean to talk it over with May." 

They turned, as he spoke, into the passage which 
led to Mr. Flint's abode. 

May was at home, and she talked the matter over 
with Phil in the boudoir with the small window, 
and the near prospect of brick wall, and the 
photographs of the Maylands, and the embroidered 
text that was its occupant's sheet-anchor. 

She at once fell in with his idea about getting 
their mother over to London, but when he men- 
tioned his views about her furnishing a house so 
as to offer a home to his friend Aspel, she was 
apparently distressed, and yet seemed unable to 
explain her meaning or to state her objections 
clearlv 

" Oh ! Phil, dear," she said at last, " don't plai^ 
and arrange too much. Let us try to walk so that 
we may be led by God, and not run in advance of 
Him." 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 345 

Phil was perplexed and disappointed, for May 
not only appeared to throw cold water on his 
efforts, but seemed unwilling to give her personal 
aid in the rescue of her old playmate. He was 
wrong in this. In the circumstances, poor May 
could not with propriety bring personal influence 
to bear on Aspel, but she conld and did pray for him 
with all the ardour of a young and believing heart. 

"It's a very strange thing," continued Phil, 
"that George won't take assistance from any one. 
I know that he is in want — that he has not money 
enough to buy respectable clothes so as to be able to 
appear among his old friends, yet he will not take a 
sixpence from me — not even as a loan." 

May did not answer. With her face hid in her 
hands she sat on the edge of her bed, weeping at 
the thought of her lover's fallen condition. Poor 
May ! People said that telegraphic work was too 
hard for her, because her cheeks were losing the 
fresh bloom that she had brought from the west of 
Ireland, and the fingers with which she manipu- 
lated the keys so deftly were growing very thin. 
But sorrow had more to do with the change than 
the telegraph had. 

" It must be pride," said her brother. 

" Oh ! Phil," she said, looking up, " don't you 
think that shame has more to do with it than 
pride ?" 



346 POST HA.STE : 

Phil stooped and kissed her. 

"Sure it's that, no doubt, and I 'm a beast 
entirely for suggesting pride." 

" Supper ! Hallo in there/' shouted Mr. Flint, 
thundering at the door ; " don't keep the old 'ooman 
waiting !" 

Phil and May came forth at once, but the former 
would not remain to supper. He had to visit Mr. 
Blurt, he said, and miglit perhaps sup with him. 
Pax would go with him. 

" Well, my lads, please yourselves," said Mr. 
Flint, wheeling the old woman to the table, on 
which smoked a plentiful supply of her favourite , 
sausages. 

" Let me take the cat off your lap, grannie," said 
May. 

" Let the cat be, lassie ; it 's daein' nae ill. Are 
the callants gaein' oot?" 

" Yes, grannie," said Phil, " we have business to 
attend to." 

"Bizness!" exclaimed Mrs. Flint. "Weel, weel, 
tliey lay heavy burdens on 'ee at that Post- Office. 
Night an' day — night an' day. They 've maist 
killed my Solomon. They've muckle to answer 
for." 

In her indignation she clenched her fist and 
brought it down on her knee. Unfortunately the 
cat came between the list and tlio knee. With its 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 347 

usual remonstrative mew it fled and found a place 
of rest and refuge in tlie coal-box. 

"But it's not to the Post- Office we're goin', 
grannie," said Phil, laying his hand kindly on the 
old woman's shoulder. 

"What o' that? what o' that?" she exclaimed 
somewhat testily at being corrected, "has that 
onything to dae wi' the argiment ? If ye git yer 
feet wat, bairns, mind to chynge them ; an' what- 
ever ye dae — " 

She stopped suddenly. One glance at her placid 
old countenance sufficed to show that she had 
retired to the previous century, from which nothing 
now could recall her except sausages. The youths 
therefore went out. 

Meanwhile Mr. Enoch Blurt sat in his brother's 
back shop entertaining a visitor. The shop itself 
had, for a considerable time past, been put under 
the care of an overgrown boy, who might — by 
courtesy and a powerful stretch of truth — have 
been styled a young man. 

Jiggs — he appeared to have no other name — 
was simply what men style a born idiot : not 
sufficiently so to be eligible for an asylum, but 
far enough gone to be next to useless. Mr. Blurt 
had picked him up somewhere, in a philanthropic 
way — no one ever knew how or where — during 
one of his many searches after George Aspel, 



348 POST HASTE : 

Poor Mr. Blurt was not liappy in his selection 
of men or boys. Four of the latter whom he 
had engaged to attend the shop and learn the 
business had been dismissed for rough play with 
the specimens, or making free with the till when 
a few coppers chanced to be in it. They had 
failed, also, to learn the business ; chiefly because 
there was no business to learn, and Mr. Enoch 
Blurt did not know how to teach it. When he 
came in contact with Jiggs, Mr. Blurt believed he 
had at last secured a prize, and confided that 
belief to IVfrs. Murridge. So he had, as regards 
honesty. Jiggs was honest to the core, but as to 
other matters he was defective — to say the least. 
He could, however, put up and take down the 
shutters, call Mr. Blurt down- stairs if wanted — 
which he never was ; and tell customers, when he 
was out, to call again — which he never did, as 
customers never darkened the door. Jiggs, how- 
ever, formed a sufficient scarecrow to street boys 
and thieves. 

The visitor in the back shop — to w^hom we now 
return — was no less a personage than Miss Gentle, 
whose acquaintance Mr. Blurt had made on board 
the ill-fated mail steamer TricUnt That lady had 
chanced, some weeks before, to pass the ornitho- 
logical shop, and, looking in, was struck dumb by 
the sight of the never-forgotten fellow-passenger 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 349 

who had made her a confidant. Recovering speech, 
she entered the shop and introduced heidelf. The 
introduction was needless. Mr. Blurt recognised 
her at once, dropped his paper, extended both 
hands, gave her a welcome that brought even 
Jiggs back to the verge of sanity, and had her 
into the back shop, whence he. expelled Mrs. 
Murridge to some other and little- known region of 
the interior. 

The interview was so agreeable that Mr. Blurt 
begged it might be repeated. It was repeated four 
times. The fifth time it was repeated by special 
arrangement in the evening, for the purpose of 
talking over a business matter. 

"I fear, Miss Gentle," began Mr. Blurt, when 
his visitor was seated in the back shop, and Mrs. 
Murridge had been expelled to the rear as usual, 
and Jiggs had been left on guard in the front — " I 
fear that you may think it rude in me to make 
such a proposal, but I am driven to it by necessity, 
and — the fact is, I want you to become a nurse." 

"A nurse, Mr. Blurt!" 

" There, now, don't take offence. It 's below your 
position, I dare say, but I have gathered from you 
that your circumstances are not — are not — not 
iexactly luxurious, and, — in short, my poor brother 
Fred is a hopeless invalid. The doctors say he will 
uever be able to leave his bed. Ah ! if those 



350 POST HASTE : 

diamonds 1 once spoke to you about had only been 
mine still, instead of adorning the caves of crabs and 
fishes, Miss Gentle, I would have had half-a-dozen 
of the best nurses in London for dear Fred. But the 
diamonds are gone ! I am a poor man, a very poor 
man, Miss Gentle, and I cannot afford a good nurse. 
At the same time, I cannot bear to think of Fred 
being, even for a brief period, at the mercy of cheap 
nurses, who, like other wares, are bad when cheap 
— although, of course, there may be a few good 
ones even among the cheap. What I cannot buy, 
therefore, I must beg ; and I have come to you, as 
one with a gentle and pitiful spirit, who may, per- 
haps, take an interest in my poor brother's case, and 
agree to help us." 

Having said all this very fast, and with an expres- 
sion of eager anxiety, j\Ir. Blurt blew his nose, 
wiped his bald forehead, and, laying both hands on 
his knees, looked earnestly into his visitor's face. 

"You are wrong, Mr. Blurt, in saying that the 
office of nurse is below my position. It is below 
the position of no one in the land. I may not be 
very competent to fill the office, but I am quite 
willing to try." 

" My dear madam," exclaimed the delighted Mr. 
Blurt, " your goodness is — but I expected as much. 
I knew you would — . Of course," he said, inter- 
rupting himself, " all the menial work will be done 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 351 

Dy ]\Irs. Murridge. You will be only required to 
fill, as it were, the part of a daughter — or — or a 
sister — to my poor Fred. As to salary: it will 
be small, very small, I fear ; but there are a couple 
of nice rooms in the house, which will be entirely 
at your — " 

" I quite understand," interrupted Miss Gentle, 
with a smile. "We won't talk of these details, 
please, until you have had a trial of me, and see 
whether I am worthy of a salary at all !" 

" Miss Gentle," returned Mr. Blurt, with sudden 
gravity, "your extreme kindness emboldens me 
to put before you another matter of business, which 
I trust you will take into consideration in a purely 
business light. — I am getting old, madam." 

Miss Gentle acknowledged the truth with a slight 
bow. 

"And you are — excuse me — not young. Miss 
Gentle." 

The lady acknowledged this truth with a slighter 
bow. 

" You would not object to regard me in the light 
of a brother, would you ?" 

Mr. Blurt took one of her hands in his, and looked 
at her earnestly. 

Miss Gentle looked at Mr. Blurt quite as earn- 
estly, and replied that she had no objection what- 
ever to that. 



352 POST HASTE : 

" still further, Miss Gentle : if I were to presume 
to ask you to regard me in the light of a husband, 
would you object to that ?" 

Miss Gentle looked down and said nothing, from 
which Mr. Blurt concluded that she did 7iot object. 
She withdrew her hand suddenly, however, and 
blushed. There was a slight noise at the door. It 
was Jiggs, who, with an idiotical stare, asked if it 
was not time to put up the shutters ! 

The plan thus vexatiously interrupted was, how- 
ever, ultimately carried into effect. Miss Gentle, 
regardless of poverty, the absence of prospects, and 
the certainty of domestic anxiety, agreed to wed 
Mr. Enoch Blurt and nurse his brother. In con- 
sideration of the paucity of funds, and the pressing 
nature of the case, she also agreed to dispense with 
a regular honeymoon, and to content herself with, 
as it were, a honey-star at home. 

Of course, the event knocked poor Phil's little 
plans on the head for the time being, though it did 
not prevent his resolving to do his utmost to bring 
his mother to London. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 353 



CHAPTEE XXV. 

LIGHT SHINING IN DARK. PLACES. 

Down by the river-side, in an out-of-tlie-way 
and unsavoury neighbourhood, George Aspel and 
Abel Bones went one evening into a small eating- 
house to have supper after a day of toil at the 
docks. It was a temperance establishment. They 
went to it, however, not because of its temperance 
but its cheapness. After dining they adjourned to 
a neighbouring public -house to drink. 

Bones had not yet got rid of his remorse, nor 
had he entirely given up desiring to undo what he 
had done for Aspel. But he found the effort to do 
good more difficult than he had anticipated. The 
edifice pulled down so ruthlessly was not, he found, 
to be rebuilt in a day. It is true, the work of 
demolition had not been all his own. If Aspel had 
not been previously addicted to careless living, such 
a man as Bones never could have had the smallest 
chance of influencing him. But Bones did not care 
to reason deeply. He knew that he had desired 

z 



354 POST HASTE : 

and plotted the youth's downfall, and that downfall 
had been accomplished. Having fallen from such 
a height, and being naturally so proud and self- 
sufficient, Aspel was proportionally more difficult 
to move again in an upward direction. 

Bones had tried once again to get him to go to the 
temperance public-house, and had succeeded. They 
had supped there once, and were more than pleased 
with the bright, cheerful aspect of the place, and 
its respectable and sober, yet jolly, frequenters. 
But the cup of coffee did not satisfy their depraved 
appetites. The struggle to overcome was too much 
for men of no principle. They were self-willed 
and reckless. Both said, "What's the use of 
trying?" and returned to their old haunts. 

On the night in question, after supping, as we 
have said, they entered a public-house to drink. 
It was filled with a noisy crew, as well as with 
tobacco-smoke and spirituous fumes. They sat 
down at a retired table and looked round. 

" God help me," muttered Aspel, in a low husky 
voice, " I've fallen very low !" 

"Ay," responded Bones, almost savagely, ''very 
low." 

Aspel was too much depressed to regard the 
tone. The waiter stood beside them, expectant. 
"Two pints of beer/' said Bones, — " ginyer-heer" 
he added, quickly. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 355 

" Yessir." 

The waiter would have said "Yessir" to an 
order for two pints of prussic acid, if that had been 
an article in his line. It was all one to him, so 
long as it was paid for. Men and women might 
drink and die ; they might come and go ; they 
might go and not come — others would come if they 
didn't, — but he would go on, like the brook, "for 
ever," supplying the terrible demand. 

As the ginger- beer was being poured out the 
door opened, and a man with a pack on his back 
entered. Setting down the pack, he wiped his 
heated brow and looked round. He was a mild, 
benignant-looking man, with a thin face. 

Opening his box, he said in a loud voice to the 
assembled company, "Who will buy a Bible for 
sixpence ?" 

There was an immediate hush in the room. 
After a few seconds a half-drunk man, with a 
black eye, said — 

" We don't want no Bibles 'ere. We Ve got 
plenty of 'em at 'ome. Bibles is only for Sun- 
days." 

" Don't people die on Mondays and Saturdays ?" 
said the colporteur, for such he was. "It would 
be a bad job if we could only have the Bible on 
Sundays. God's Word says, ' To-day if ye will 
hear His voice, harden not your hearts.' 'Jesus 



356 POST HASTE : 

Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever/ 
'Now is the accepted time, now is the day of 
salvation.' It says the same on Tuesdays and 
Wednesdays, and every day of the week." 

" That's all right enough, old fellow," said another 
man, " but a public is not the right place to bring 
a Bible into." 

Turning to this man the colporteur said quietly, 
" Does not death come into public-houses ? Don't 
people die in public-houses? Surely it is right 
to take the Word of God into any place where 
death comes, for ' after death the judgment.' ' The 
blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth us 
from all sin.'" 

" Come, come, that '11 do. We don't want none 
of that here," said the landlord of the house. 

" Very well, sir," said the man respectfully, " but 
these gentlemen have not yet declined to hear me." 

This was true, and one of the men now came 
forward to look at the contents of the box. 
Another joined him. 

"Have you any book that'll teach a man how 
to get cured of drink ? " asked one, who obviously 
stood greatly in need of such a book. 

" Yes, I have. Here it is — The Author of the 
Sinner's Friend ; it is a memoir of the man who 
wrote a little book called The Sinner's Friend,'* said 
the colporteur, producing a thin booklet in paper 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 357 

cover, " but I 'd recommend a Bible along with it, 
because the Bible tells of the sinner's test friend, 
Jesus, and remember that without Him you can do 
notJiing. He is God, and it is * God who giveth us 
the victory/ You can't do it by yourself, if you 
try ever so much." 

The man bought the booklet and a Testament. 
Before he left the place that colporteur had sold a 
fourpenny and a twopenny Testament, and several 
other religious works, beside distributing tracts 
gratuitously all round.-^ 

" That 's what I call carryin' the war into the 
enemy's camp," remarked one of the company, as 
the colporteur thanked them and went away. 

" Come, let 's go," said Aspel, rising abruptly and 
draining his glass of ginger-beer. 

Bones followed his example. They went out and 
overtook the colporteur. 

"Are there many men going about like you?" 
asked Aspel. 

" A good many," answered the colporteur. " We 
work upwards of sixty districts now. Last year we 
sold Bibles, Testaments, good books and periodicals, 
to the value of £6700, besides distributing more 
than 300,000 tracts, and speaking to many people 
the blessed Word of Life. It is true we have not 

1 See Report of "The Christian Colportage Association for 
England," 1879, p. 12. 



35 S fosT HASTJi : 

yet done mucli in public -houses, but, as you saw- 
just now, it is not an unhopeful field. That branch 
has been started only a short time ago, yet we have 
sold in public-houses above five hundred Bibles and 
Testaments, and over five thousand Christian books, 
besides distributing tracts." 

"It's a queer sort o' work," said Bones. "Do 
you expect much good from it?" 

The colporteur replied, with a look of enthusiasm, 
that he did expect much good, because much had 
already been done, and the promise of success was 
sure. He personally knew, and could name, sinners 
who had been converted to God through the instru- ' 
mentality of colporteurs ; men and women who had 
formerly lived solely for themselves had been 
brought to Jesus, and now lived for Him. Swearers 
had been changed to men of prayer and praise, and 
drunkards had become sober men — " 

"Through that little book, I suppose?" asked 
Bones quickly. 

" Not altogether, but partly by means of it." 

" Have you another copy?" asked George Aspel. 

The man at once produced the booklet, and Aspel 
purchased it. 

"What do you mean," he said, "by its being 
only * partly' the means of saving men from drink ? " 

" I mean that there is no Saviour from sin of any 
kind but Jesus Christ. The remedy pointed out in 



A TALH OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 359 

a?, that little book is, I am told, a good and effective 
I one, but without the Spirit of God no man has 
\i jnpower to persevere in the application of the remedy. 
He will get wearied of the continuous effort; he 
will not avoid temptation ; he will lose heart in the 
battle unless he has a higher motive than his own 
deliverance to urge him on. Why, sirs, what would 
you expect from the soldier who, in battle, thought 
of nothing but himself and his own safety, his own 
deliverance from the dangers around him? Is it 
not those men who boldly face the enemy with the 
love of Queen and country and comrades and duty 
strong in their breasts, who are most likely to con- 
quer? In the matter of drink the man who trusts 
to remedies alone will surely fail, because the 
disease is moral as well as physical. The physical 
remedy will not cure the soul's disease, but the 
moral remedy — the acceptance of Jesus — will not 
only cure the soul, but wiU secure to us that 
spiritual influence which wiU enable us to 'per- 
severe to the end ' with the physical. Thus Jesus 
will save both soul and body — ' it is God who giveth 
us the victory.' " 

They parted from the colporteur at this point. 

" What think you of that?" asked Bones. 

" It is strange, if true — but I don't believe it," 
replied Aspel. . 

" Well now, it appears to me," rejoined Bones, 



36C POSTHASTE: 

" that the man seems pretty sure of what he be- 
lieves, and very reasonable in what he says, but 
I don't know enough about the subject to hold an 
opinion as to whether it 's true or false." 

It might have been well for Aspel if he had taken 
as modest a view of the matter as his companion, 
but he had been educated — that is to say, he had 
received an average elementary training at an ordi- 
nary school, — and on the strength of that, although 
he had never before given a serious thought to 
religion, and certainly nothing worthy of the name 
of study, he held himself competent to judge and 
to disbelieve ! 

While they walked towards the City, evening was 
spreading her grey mantle over the sky. The lamps 
had been lighted, and the enticing blaze from gin- 
palaces and beer- shops streamed frequently across 
their path. 

At the corner of a narrow street they were 
arrested by the sound of music in quick time, and 
energetically sung. 

" A penny gaff," remarked Bones, referring to a 
low music-hall ; " what d'ee say to go in ?" 

Aspel was so depressed just then that he wel- 
comed any sort of excitement, and willingly went. 

"AVhat's to pay?" he asked of the man at the 
door. 

"Nothing; it's free/* 



A taLe of her majesty's mails. 3G1 

" That 's liberal anyhow," observed Bones, as they 
pushed in. 

The room was crowded by people of the lowest 
order — men and women in tattered garments, and 
many of them with debauched looks. A tall thin 
man stood on the stage or platform. The singing 
ceased, and he advanced. 

" Bah !" whispered Aspel, " it *s a prayer-meeting. 
Let 'she off." 

"Stay," returned Bones. "I know the feller. 
He comes about our court sometimes. Let 's hear 
what he 's got to say." 

"Friends," said Mr. Sterling, the city missionary, 
for it was he, "I hold in my hand the Word of 
God. There are messages in this Word — this Bible 
— for every man and woman in this room. I shall 
deliver only two of these messages to-night. If any 
of you want more of 'em you may come back to- 
morrow. Only two to-night. The first is, ' Though 
your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as 
snow, though they be red like crimson they shall 
be as wool.' The other is, ' It is God who giveth 
us the victory.' " 

Bones started and looked at his companion. It 
seemed as if the missionary had caught up and 
echoed the parting words of the colporteur. 

Mr. Sterling had a keen, earnest look, and a 
naturally eloquent as well as persuasive tongue. 



362 POSTHASTE: 

Though comparatively uneducated, he was deeply 
read in the Book which it was his life's work to 
expound, and an undercurrent of intense feeling 
seemed to carry him along — and his hearers along 
with him — as he spoke. He did not shout or ges- 
ticulate : that made him all the more impressive. 
He did not speak of himself or his own feelings : 
that enabled his hearers to give undistracted atten- 
tion to the message he had to deliver. He did not 
energise. On the contrary, it seemed as if he had 
some difficulty in restraining the superabundant 
energy that burned within him ; and as people 
usually stand more or less in awe of that which 
they do not fully understand, they gave him credit, 
perhaps, for more power than he really possessed. 
At all events, not a sound was heard, save now and 
then a suppressed sob, as he preached Christ cruci- 
fied to guilty sinners, and urged home the two 
" messages " with all the force of unstudied lan- 
guage, but well-considered and aptly put illustra- 
tion and anecdote. 

At one part of his discourse he spoke, with bated 
breath, of the unrepentant sinner's awful danger, 
comparing it to the condition of a little child who 
should stand in a blazing house, with escape by the 
staircase cut off, and no one to deliver — a simile 
which brought instantly to Bones's mind his little 
Tottie and the fire, and the rescue by the man he 



A TALE Ot HtlR MAJESTY'S MAILS. 363 

liad resolved to ruin — ay, whom he had ruined, to 
all appearance. 

" But there is a Deliverer in this case," continued 
the preacher. " ' Jesus Christ came to seek and to 
save the lost / to pluck us all as brands from the 
burning ; to save us from the fire of sin, of impurity, 
of drink ! Oh, friends, will you not accept the 
Saviour — " 

"Yes! yes!" shouted Bones, in an irresistible 
burst of feeling, " I do accept Him !" 

Every eye was turned at once on the speaker, 
who stood looking fixedly upwards, as though 
unaware of the sensation he had created. The 
interruption, however, was only momentary. 

" Thanks be to God !" said the preacher. " There 
is joy among the angels of heaven over one sinner 
that repenteth." 

Then, not wishing to allow attention to be 
diverted from his message, he continued his dis- 
course with such fervour that the people soon forgot 
the interrupter, and Bones forgot them and him- 
self and his friend, in contemplation of the " Great 
Salvation." 

When the meeting was over he hurried out into 
the open air. Aspel followed, but lost him in the 
crowd. After searching a few minutes without 
success, he returned to Archangel Court without 
him. 



364 POST HASTE : 

The proud youth was partly subdued, though not 
overcome. He had heard things that night which 
he had never heard before, as well as many things 
which, though heard before, had never made such 
an impression as then. Lighting the remnant of 
the candle in the pint bottle, he pulled out the 
little book which he had purchased, and began to 
read, and ever as he read there seemed to start up 
the words, " It is God who giveth us the victory." 
At last he came to the page on which the prescrip- 
tion for drunkards is printed in detail. He read 
it with much interest and some hope, though, of 
course, being ignorant of medicine, it conveyed no 
light to his mind. 

" 1 11 try it at all events," he muttered in a some- 
what desponding tone ; " but I Ve tried before now 
to break off the accursed habit without success, and 
have my doubts of this, for — " 

He paused, for the words, " It is God that giveth 
us the victory," leaped again to his mind with ten- 
fold power. 

Just then there arose a noise of voices in the 
court. Presently the sound of many footsteps was 
heard in the passage. The shuffling feet stopped at 
the door, and some one knocked loudly. 

With a strange foreboding at his heart, Aspel 
leaped up and opened it. 

Four men entered, bearing a stretcher. They 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 365 

placed it gently on the low truckle-bed in the 
corner, and, removing the cover, revealed the 
mangled and bloody but still breathing form of 
Abel Bones. 

" He seemed to be a bit unhinged in his mind," 
said one of the men in reply to Aspel's inquiring 
look — "was seen goin' recklessly across the road, 
and got run over. We would 'ave took 'im to the 
hospital, but he preferred to be brought here." 

" All right, George," said Bones in a low voice, 
" I '11 be better in a little. It was an accident. 
Send 'em away, an' try if you can find my old girl 
and Tottie. — It is strange," he continued faintly, as 
Aspel bent over him, " that the lady I wanted to 
rob set me free, for Tottie's sake ; and the boy I 
cast adrift in London risked his life for Tottie ; and 
the man I tried to ruin saved her ; and the man I 
have often cursed from my door has brought me 
at last to the Sinner's Friend. Stranp^e ! rpry 
strange ' ' 



366 POST HASTE: 



CHAPTER XXVI. 

TELLS OF A SHAM FIGHT AND A REAL BATTLE, 

There are periods in the busy round of labour at 
the great heart in St. Martin's-le- Grand when some 
members of the community cease work for a time 
and go off to enjoy a holiday. 

Such periods do not occur to all simultaneously, 
else would the great postal work of the kingdom 
come to a dead-lock. They are distributed so that 
the action of the heart never flags, even when large 
drafts are made on the working staff, as when a 
whole battalion of the employes goes out for a field- 
day in the garb of Volunteers. 

There are between eight and nine hundred men 
of the Post Office, who, not content with carrying 
Her Majesty's mails, voluntarily carry Her Majesty's 
rifles. These go through the drudgery and drill of 
military service at odd hours, as they find time, and 
on high occasions they march out to the martial 
strains of fife and drum. 



A TALE OF Hl'R MAJESTY'S MAILS. 3G7 

On one such occasion the Post-Office battalion 
(better known as the 49th Middlesex) took part 
in a sham fight, which Phil Maylands and Peter 
Pax (who chanced to have holidays at the time) 
went out to see. They did not take part in it, 
not being Volunteers, but they took pride in it, 
as worthy, right- spirited men of the Post could not 
fail to do. 

The 49th Middlesex distinguished themselves on 
that occasion. Their appearance as they marched 
on to the battle-ground — some distance out of 
London — bore creditable comparison with the best 
corps in the service. So said Pax ; and Pax was a 
good judge, being naturally critical. 

When the fight began, and the rattling musketry, 
CO say nothing of booming artillery, created such a 
smoke that no unmilitary person could make head 
or tail of anything, the 49th Middlesex took ad- 
vantage of a hollow, and executed a flank movement 
that w^ould have done credit to the 42d Highlanders, 
and even drew forth an approving nod and smile 
from the reviewing officer, who with his cocked- 
hatted staff witnessed the movement from an emi- 
nence which was swept by a devastating cross-fire 
from every part of the field. 

When the artillery were ordered to another emi- 
nence to check the movement and dislodge them 
from the hollow, the gallant 49th stood their ground 



368 POST HASTE : 

in the face of a fire that would have swept that 
hollow as with the besom of destruction. They also 
replied with a continuous discharge that would, in 
five minutes, have immolated every man and horse 
on the eminence. -m^ 

When, afterwards, a body of cavalry was sent to 
teach the gallant 49th a lesson, and came thunder- 
ing down on them like a wolf on the fold, or an 
avalanche on a Swiss hamlet, they formed square 
with mathematical precision, received them with a 
withering fire that ought to have emptied every 
saddle, and, with the bayonet's point, turned them 
trooping off to the right and left, discomfited. 

When, finally, inflated with the pride of victory, 
they began to re-form line too soon, and were caught 
in the act by the returning cavalry, they flung 
themselves into rallying squares, which, bristling 
with bayonets like porcupines of steel, kept up 
such an incessant roar of musketry that the spot 
on which they stood became, as it were, a heart or 
core of furious firing, in the midst of a field that 
was already hotly engaged all round. We do not 
vouch for the correctness of this account of the 
battle. We received it from Pax, and give it for 
what it is worth. 

Oh ! it was, as Phil Maylands said, " a glorious 
day entirely for the 49th Middlesex, that same 
Queen's Birthday," for there was all the pomp and 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 369 

circumstance of war, all the smoke and excitation, 
all the glitter of bright sunshine on accoutrements, 
the flash of sword and bayonet, and the smoke and 
fire of battle,without the bloodshed and the loss of life ! 

No doubt th^e were drawbacks. Where is the 
human family, however well regulated, that claims 
exemption from such? There were some of the 
warriors on that bloodless battle-field who had no 
more idea of the art of war than the leg of a tele- 
scope has of astronomy. There were many who 
did not know which were friends and which were 
foes. Many more there were who did not care ! 
Some of the Volunteer officers (though not many), 
depending too much on their sergeants to keep 
them right, drove these sergeants nearly mad. 
Others there were, who, depending too much on 
their own genius, drove their colonels frantic ; but 
by far the greater number, both of officers and men, 
knew their work and did it well. 

Yes, it was indeed a glorious day entirely, that 
same Queen's Birthday, for all arms of the service, 
especially for the 49th Middlesex ; and when that 
gallant body of men marched from the field of glory, 
with drums beating and fifes shrieking, little Pax 
could scarcely contain himself for joy, and wished 
with all his heart that he were drum-major of the 
corps, that he might find vent for his feelings in the 
bursting of the bisr drum. 

2 a 



370 POST HASTE : 

" jSTow " said Phil, when they had seen the last of 
the Volunteers off the field, " what shall you and I 
do?" 

" Ah ! true, that is the question," returned Pax ; 
" what are we to do ? Our holidays are before us. 
The day is far spent ; the evening is at hand. We . 
can't bivouac here, that is plain. AVhat say you, 
Phil, to walking over to Miss Stivergill's ? I have j 
a general invite from that lady to spend any holi- i 
days I have to dispose of at Eosebud Cottage. It 
is not more than two miles from where we stand." 

"D'ye think she'd extend her invite to me?" 
asked Phil dubiously. 

" Think !" exclaimed Pax, " I am sure of it. Why, 
that respectable old lady owns a heart that might 
have been enshrined in a casket of beauty. She's a 
trump — a regular brick." 

" Come, Pax, be respectful." 

" Ain't I respectful, you Irish noodle ? My lan- 
guage mayn't be choice, indeed, but you can't find 
fault with the sentiment. Come along, before it 
gets darker. Any friend of mine will be welcome ; 
besides, I half expect to find your sister there, and 
we shall be sure to see Miss Lillycrop and my sweet 
little cousin Tottie, who has been promoted to the 
condition of ladies'-maid and companion." 

" Ah, poor Tottie !" said Phil, " her father's iUness 
has told heavily on hor " 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 371 

" That's true," returued Pax, as every vestige of 
fun vanished from his expressive face and was 
replaced by sympathy, " but I 've good news for 
her to-night. Since her last visit her father 
has improved, and the doctor says he may yet 
recover. The fresh air of the new house has done 
him good." 

Pax referred here to a new residence in a more 
airy neighbourhood, to w^hich Bones had been re- 
moved through the kindness and liberality of JMiss 
StivergiU, whose respect for the male sex had, 
curiously enough, increased from the date of tlie 
burglary. With characteristic energy she had re- 
moved Bones, with his wife and a few household 
goods, to a better dwelling near the river, but this 
turned out to be damp, and Bones became worse in 
it. She therefore instituted another prompt removal 
to a more decidedly salubrious quarter. Here Bones 
improved a little in health. But the poor man's 
injury was of a serious nature. Eibs had been 
broken, and the lungs pierced. A constitution 
debilitated by previous dissipation could not easily 
withstand the shock. His life trembled in the 
balance. 

The change, however, in the man's spirit was mar- 
vellous. It had not been the result of sudden cala- 
mity or of prolonged suffering. Before his accident, 
while in full vigour and in the midst of his sins, the 



372 POSTHASTE: 

drops which melted him had begun to fall like dew. 
The night when Jiis eyes were opened to see Jesus 
was but the culminating of God's work of mercy. 
From that night he spoke little, but the little he 
said was to express thankfulness. He cared not to 
reason. He would not answer questions that were 
sometimes foolishly put to him, but he listened to 
the Word of God, read by his poor yet rejoicing 
wife, with eager, thirsting looks. When told that he 
was in danger he merely smiled. 

" Georgie," he whispered — for he had reverted to 
the old original name of his wife, which, with his ^ 
proper name of Blackadder, he had changed on 
coming to London — " Georgie, I wish I might live for 
your sake and His, but it'll be better to go. We 're 
on the same road at last, Georgie, and shall meet 
again." 

Aspel marked the change and marvelled. He 
could not understand it at all. But he came to 
understand it ere long. He had followed Eones in 
his changes of abode, because he had formed a 
strange liking for the man, but he refused to asso- 
ciate in any way with his former friends. They occa- 
sionally visited the sick man, but if Aspel chanced 
to be with him at the time he invariably went 
out by the back-door as they entered by the front. 
He refused even to see Phil Maylands, but met Pax, 
and seemed not to mind him. At air events he took 



I 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 373 

no notice of him. Whether his conduct was owing 
to pride, shame, or recklessness, none could tell. 

The changes of residence we have referred to had 
the effect of throwing off the scent a certain gentle- 
man who had been tracking out Abel Bones with 
the persever£tnce, though not the success, of a blood- 
hound. 

The man in grey, after losing, or rather coming 
to the end, of his clew at the Post- Office furnace, 
recovered it by some magical powers known best to 
himself and his compeers, and tracked his victim to 
Archangel Court, but here he lost the scent again, 
and seemed to be finally baffled. It was well for 
Bones that it so fell out, because in his weak state 
it would probably have gone hard with him had he 
believed that the police were still on his tracks. As 
it was, he progressed slowly but favourably, and with 
this good news Pax and his friend hurried to Eose- 
bud Cottage. 

What an unmitigated blessing a lioliday is to 
those who work hard ! Ah ! ye lazy ones of 
earth, if ye gain something by unbounded leisure 
ye lose much. Stay — we will not preach on that 
text. It needs not ! 

To return : Phil and Pax found Tottie and May 
at The Eosebud as they had anticipated — the latter 
being free for a time on sick-leave — and the four 
went in for a holiday, as Pax put it, neck and crop. 



Sn POST HASTE : 

It may occur to some that there was somewhat 
of incongruity in the companionship of Tottie and 
May, but the difference between the poor man's 
daughter who had been raised to comparative afflu- 
ence, and the gentleman's daughter who had been 
brought down to comparative poverty, was not so 
great as one might suppose. It must be remem- 
bered that Tottie had started life with a God-fearing 
mother, and that of itself secured her from much 
contamination in the midst of abounding evil, 
while it surrounded her with a rich influence for 
good. Then, latterly, she had been mentally, 
morally, and physically trained by Miss Lilly- 
crop, who was a perfect pattern of propriety, 
delicacy, good sense, and good taste. She first 
read to her pupil, and then made the pupil read 
to her. Miss Lillycrop's range of reading was 
wide and choice. Thus Tottie, who was naturally 
refined and intelligent, in time became more so by 
education. She had grown wonderfully too, and 
had acquired a certain sedateness of demeanour, 
which was all the more captivating that it was an 
utterly false index to her character, for Tottie's spirit 
was as wildly exuberant as that of the wildest 
denizen of Archangel Court. 

In like manner Pax had been greatly improved 
by his association with Phil Maylands. The vigor- 
ous strength of Phil's mind had unconsciously 



A TALE OF HER MAJF.STY'S MAILS. 375 

exercised a softeniiii*- influeuce on his little admirer. 
We have said that they studied and read together. 
Hence Pax was learned beyond his years and station. 
The fitness therefore of the four to associate plea- 
santly has, we think, been clearly made out. 

Pax, at all events, had not a shadow of a doubt 
on that point, especially when the four lay down 
under the shadow of a spreading oak to examine 
the butterflies and moths they had captured in the 
fields. 

" What babies we are," said Phil, " to go after 
butterflies in this fashion ! " 

" Speak for yourself," retorted Pax ; " I consider 
myself an entomologist gathering specimens. Call 
'em specimens, Phil ; that makes a world of differ- 
ence. — Oh, Tot ! what a splendid one you have got 
there ! It reminds me so of the time when I used 
to carry you about the fields on my back, and call 
you Merry. Don't you remember ?" 

" No," said Tottie, " I don't." 

" And won't you let me call you Merry ?" pleaded 
Pax. 

" No, I won't. I don't believe you ever carried 
me on your back, or that my name was Merry." 

" What an unbeliever !" exclaimed Pax. 

" You can't deny that you are merry to-day, Tot," 
said May. 

Tot did not deny it, but, so to speak, admitted it 



376 POST HASTE : 

by starting up and giving sudden chase to a remark- 
ably bright butterfly that passed at the moment. 

" And don't you remember," resumed Pax, when 
she returned and sat down again by his side, " the 
day when we caught the enormous spider, which I 
kept in a glass box, where it spun a net and caught 
the flies I pushed into the box for it to feed on ? 
No ? Nor the black beetle we found fighting with 
another beetle, wliich, I tried to impress on you, 
was its grandmother, and you laughed heartily as 
if you retilly understood what I said, though you 
didn't. You remember that, surely ? No ? Well, 
well — these joys were thrown away on you, for you 
remember nothing." 

" yes, I do remember something," cried Tottie. 
"I remember when you fell into the horse-pond, 
and came out dripping, and covered from head to 
foot with mud and weeds f" 

She followed up this remark with a merry laugh, 
which was suddenly checked by a shrill and terrible 
cry from the neighbouring field. 

In order to account for this cry, we must state 
that Miss Lilly crop, desirous of acquiring an appetite 
for dinner by means of a short walk, left Eosebud 
Cottage and made for the dell, in which she expected 
to meet May Maylands and her companions. Tak- 
ing a short cut, she crossed a field. Short cuts are 
frequently dangerous. It proved so in the present 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 377 

instance. The field she had invaded was the private 
preserve of an old bull with a sour temper. 

Beholding a female, he lowered his horrid head, 
cocked his tail, and made at her. This it was that 
drew from poor Miss Lillycrop a yell such as she 
had not uttered since the days of infancy. 

Phil May lands was swift to act at all times of 
emergency. He vaulted the fence of the field, and 
rushed at Miss Lillycrop as if he himself had been 
a bull of Bashan, and meant to try his hand at 
tossing her. Not an idea had Phil as to what he 
meant to do. All he knew was that he had to rush 
to the rescue ! Between Phil and the bull the poor 
lady seemed to stand a bad chance. 

Not a w^hit less active or prompt was Peter Pax, 
"but Peter had apparently more of method in his 
madness than Phil, for he wrenched up a stout stake 
in his passage over the fence. 

"Lie down! lie down! lie down!" shouted 
Phil in agony, for he saw that the brute was quickly 
overtaking its victim. 

Poor Miss Lillycrop was beyond all power of self- 
control. She could only fly. Fortunately a hole in 
the field came to her rescue. She put her foot into 
it and fell flat down. The bull passed right over 
her, and came face to face with Phil, as it pulled up, 
partly in surprise, no doubt, at the sudden disappear- 
ance of Miss Lillycrop and at the sudden appear- 



378 POST HASTE : 

ance of a new foe. Before it recovered from its 
surprise little Pax brought the paling down on its 
nose with such a whack that it absolutely sneezed 
— or something like it — then, roaring, rushed at Pax. 

As if he had been a trained matadore, Pax leaped 
aside, and brought the paling down again on the 
bull's head with a smash that knocked it all to 
splinters. 

"Don't dodge it," shouted Phil, "draw it away 
from her !" 

Pax understood at once. Tempting the bull to 
charge him again, he ran off to the other side of the 
field like a greyhound, followed by the foaming 
enemy. 

Meanwhile Phil essayed to lift Miss Lillycrop, 
who had swooned, on his shoulders. Fortunately 
she was light. Still, it was no easy matter to get 
her limp form into his arms. With a desperate 
effort he got her on his knee; with an inelegant 
hitch he sent her across his shoulder, where she 
hung like a limp bolster, as he made for the fence. 
May and Tottie stood there rooted to the earth in 
horror. To walk on uneven ground with such a 
burden was bad enough, but Phil had to run. 
How he did it he never could tell, but he reached 
the fence at last, and shot Miss Lillycrop over into 
the arms of her friends, and all three were sent 
headlong down into a thick bush. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 



379 



Phil turned at ouce to run to the aid of Pax, but 
there was no occasion to do so. That youth had 
reached and leaped the fence like an acrobat, and 
was now standing on the other side of it making 
faces at the bull, calling it names, and insulting it 
with speeches of the most refined insolence, by way 
of relieving his feelings f*iid expressing liis satis- 
factio^j. 



380 POST HASTE 



CHAPTEE XXVTL 

THE GREATEST BATTLE OF ALL. 

Time advanced apace, and wronght many of 
those innumerable changes in the fortunes of the 
human race for which Time is famous. 

Among other things it brought Sir James Club- 
ley to the bird- shop of Messrs. Blurt one Christmas 
eve. 

" My dear sir," said Sir James to Mr. Enoch in 
the back shop, through the half-closed door of 
which the owl could be seen gazing solemnly at 
the pelican of the wilderness, " I have called to ask 
whether you happen to have heard anything of 
young Aspel of late ?" 

"Nothing whatever," replied Mr. Blurt, with a 
sad shake of his head. "Since Bones died — the 
man, you know, with whom he lived — he has 
removed to some new abode, and no one ever 
hears or sees anything of him, except Mrs. Bones. 
He visits her occasionally (as I believe you are 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 381 

aware), but refuses to give her his address. She 
says, however, that he has given up drink — that 
the dying words of her husband had affected him 
very deeply. God grant it may be so, for I love 
the youth." 

"I join in your prayer, Mr. Blurt," said Sir 
James, who was slightly, though perhaps uncon- 
sciously, pompous in his manner. ." My acquaint- 
ance with him has been slight — in fact only two 
letters have passed between us — but I entertained a 
strong regard for his father, who in schoolboy days 
saved my life. In after years he acquired that 
passion for spirits which his son seems to have 
inherited, and, giving up all his old friends, went 
to live on a remote farm in the west of Ireland." 

Sir James spoke slowly and low, as if reflectively, 
with his eyes fixed on the ground. 

" In one of the letters to which I have referred," 
he continued, looking up, "youug Aspel admitted 
that he had fallen, and expressed regret in a few 
words, which were evidently sincere, but he 
firmly, though quite politely, declined assistance, 
and wound up with brief yet hearty thanks for 
what he called my kind intentions, and especially 
for my expressions of regard for his late father, 
who, he said, had been worthy of my highest 
esteem." 

" He 's a strange character ; — but how did you. 



382 POST HASTE : 

manage to get a letter conveyed to him ?" asked 
Mr. Blurt. 

" Throngh Mrs. Bones. You are aware, I think, 
that a considerable time ago I set a detective to 
find out his whereabouts — " 

" How strange ! So did I," said Mr. Blurt. 

"Indeed!" exclaimed Sir James. "Well, this 
man happened by a strange coincidence to be 
engaged in unravelling a mystery about a lost 
little dog, which after many failures led him to 
the discovery of Abel Bones as being a burglar who 
was wanted. Poor Bones happened at the time of 
his visit to be called before a higher tribunal. He 
was dying. Aspel was at his bedside, and the 
detective easily recognised him as the youth of 
whom he had been so long in search. I sent my 
letter by the detective to Mrs. Bones, who gave it 
to Aspel. His reply came, of course, through the 
ordinary channel — the post." 

"And what do you now propose doing?" asked 
Mr. Blurt. 

" I think of going to see PhiKp Maylands, who, 
I am given to understand by INIiss Lillycrop, was 
once an intimate friend of Aspel. D'you happen 
to know his address ?" 

"Yes, he lives with his mother now, but it's of 
no use your going to his home to-night. You are 
sLware that this is Christmas eve, and all the officials 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 383 

of the Post-Office will be umisually busy. They 
often work night and day at this season." 

" Tnen I will go direct to the General Post- 
Office. Perhaps I shall be able to exchange a few 
words with him there," said Sir James, rising. 

At that moment there burst upon the ears of 
the visitor a peculiar squall, which seemed to call 
forth a bland and beaming smile on the glad coun- 
tenance of Mr. Blurt. Sir James looked at him 
inquiringly. 

" My babe, Sir James," said Mr. Blurt, with ill- 
concealed pride ; " since last I had the pleasure of 
seeing you I have been married. Ah ! Sir James, 
'it is not good for man to be alone.' That is a 
truth with which I was but feebly impressed until 
I came to understand the blessedness of the wedded 
state. Words cannot — " 

He was cut short by a sudden crash of something 
overhead, and a bump, followed by a squall of un- 
wonted vehemence. The squall was simultaneous 
with the ringing of a handbell, and was followed by 
the cry of a soft entreating voice roused to excitation. 

"Oh ! Nockie dear" — thus the former Miss Gentle 
named her spouse, — " come here, quick — oh ! do be 
quick ! Baby 's fallen and Fred 's ringing." 

The truth of this was corroborated by another 
furious ring by the invalid, which mingled with 
the recurring squalls, and was increased by the 



384 POST HASTE : 

noisy and pertinacious clatter of the cracked bell 
that announced the opening of the shop-door. 

"Zounds! Mrs. Murridge, mind the shop! — 
Good-bye, Sir James. Excuse — . Coming, dear ! " 

Mr. Blurt, glaring as he clutched his scant 
side locks, dashed up-stairs with the agility of a 
school-boy. 

Sir James Clubley, who was a bachelor, left the 
place with a quiet smile, and proceeded, at what we 
may style a reflective pace, towards the City. 

But Sir James might have saved himself the 
trouble. It was, as we have said, Christmas eve, 
and he might as well have demanded audience of a 
soldier in the heat of battle as of a Post-Office 
official on that trying night of the year. 

In modern times the tendency of the human race 
(the British part of it at least) to indulge in social 
intercourse by letter and otherwise at the Christmas 
season has been on the increase, and, since the in- 
troduction of cheap postage, it has created a pressure 
on the Post-Office which has taxed its powers very 
considerably. The advent of halfpenny post-cards, 
and especially the invention of Christmas-card and 
packet correspondence, with the various facilities 
which have of late years been afforded to the 
public by the Department, have created such a 
mass of intercommunication throughout the king- 
dom, that Christmas has now to be regularly pre- 



A Tale of her majesty's mails. -385 

pared for as a great field-day, or rather a grand 
campaign extending over several days. Well- 
planned arrangements have to be made beforehand. 
Contingencies and possibilities have to be weighed 
and considered. All the forces of the Department 
have to be called out, or rather called in. Provi- 
sions — actual food, of exceptional kind and quantity 
— have to be provided, and every man, boy, nerve, 
muscle, eye, hand, brain, and spirit, has to be taxed 
to the very uttermost to prevent defeat. 

On the particular year of which we write, symp- 
toms of the coming struggle began to be felt before 
Christmas eve. On the morning of the 23d, the 
enemy — if we may so style the letters — ^began to 
come in like a flood, and the whole of that day the 
duty was most pressing, although the reserve forces 
had been called into action. On the morning of 
the 24th the strain was so severe that few men 
could be allowed to leave the Office, though some 
of them had been at work for eighteen hours. 
During the whole of the 24th the flood was at its 
height. Every available man in the other branches 
whose services could be utilised was pressed into 
the service of the Circulation Department at St. 
Martin's-le-Grand. 

The great mouth under the portico was fed with 
a right royal feast that day — worthy of the Christ- 
mas season ! The subsidiary mouths elsewhere 
2 B 



386 POST HASTE : 

were fed with similar liberality. Through these, 
letters, cards, packets, parcels, poured, rushed, 
leaped, roared into the great sorting-hall. Floods 
is a feeble word ; a Highland spate is but a wishy- 
washy figure wherewith to represent the deluge. 
A bee-hive, an ant-hill, were weak comparisons. 
Nearly two thousand men energised — body, soul, 
and spirit — in that hall that Christmas-tide, and an 
aggregate of fifteen thousand eight hundred and 
seventy-nine hours* work was accomplished by them. 
They faced, stamped, sorted, carried, bundled, tied, 
bagged, and sealed without a moment's intermission 
for two days and two nights continuously. It was 
a great, a tremendous battle ! The easy-going 
public outside knew and cared little or nothing 
about the conflict which themselves had caused. 
Letters were heaped on the tables and strewed on 
the floors. Letters were carried in baskets, in bags, 
in sacks, and poured out like water. The men 
and boys absolutely swam in letters. Eager acti- 
vity — but no blind haste — was characteristic of the 
gallant two thousand. They felt that the honour 
of Her Majesty's mails depended on their devotion, 
and that was, no doubt, dearer to them than life ! 
So the first day wore on, and the warriors stood 
their ground and kept the enemy at bay. 

As the evening of the 24th drew on apace, and the 
ordinary pressure of the evening mail began to be 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 387 

added to the extraordinary pressure of the day, the 
real tug of war began ! The demand for extra service 
throughout the country began to exercise a reflex 
influence on the great centre. Mails came from the 
country in some instances with the letters unsorted, 
thus increasing the difficulties of the situation. The 
struggle was all the more severe that preparations 
for the night despatch were begun with a jaded force, 
some of the men having already been twenty- six and 
twenty-eight hours at work. Moreover, frost and 
fog prevailed at the time, and that not only delayed 
trains and the arrival of mails, but penetrated the 
building so that the labour was performed in a de- 
pressing atmosphere. To meet the emergency, at 
least in part, the despatch of the usual eight o'clock 
mail was delayed for that night fifty minutes. As in 
actual war an hour's delay may be fraught with tre- 
mendous issues for good or ill, so this brief postal 
delay permitted the despatch of an enormous 
amount of correspondence that would have other- 
wise been left over to the following day. 

Usually the despatch of the evening mail leaves 
the vast sorting-hall in serene repose, with clean 
and r3mpty tables ; but on the night of this great 
battle — which has to be re-fought every Christmas 
— the embarrassment did not cease with the de- 
spatch of the evening mail. Correspondence con- 
tinued to flow on in as great a volume as before. 



388 POST HASTE : 

Squads of the warriors, however, withdrew at 
intervals from the fight, to refresh themselves in 
the various kitchens of the basement. 

As we have said elsewhere, the members of the 
Post-OfiQce provide their own food, and there are 
caterers on the premises who enable them to do 
so without leaving the Office while on duty. But 
on this occasion extra and substantial food — meat, 
bread, tea, coffee, and cocoa — were provided by the 
Department at its own cost, besides which the men 
were liberally and deservedly remunerated for the 
whole severe and extra duty. 

It chanced that Phil Maylands and Beter Pax 
retired from the battle about the same time, and 
met in the sorters' kitchen. 

" Well, old fellow/' said Phil, who was calm 
and steady but looking fagged, to Pax, who was 
dishevelled about the head and dress and somewhat 
roused by the exciting as well as fatiguing nature 
of the work, — " Well, old fellow ; tough work, 
isn't it?" 

" Tough ? It 's glorious !" said Pax, seating him- 
self enthusiastically at the table ; " I 'm proud of my 
country — proud of the G. P. 0. — proud .... I say, is 
that beef that I see before me ? Hand me a dagger 
— no, a knife will do. You cut it, Phil, and help 
me first, 'cause I 'm little." 

While Phil was cutting the meat Pax rested 



A TALE OF TTEK MAJESTY'S MAILS. 389 

his liead on the table, and was asleep almost 
instantly. 

"Hallo, Pax! rouse yourself!" cried Phil, giving 
his comrade a hearty slap on the shoulder; "up, 
lad, and eat — the battle still rages ; no rest allowed 
till victory is ours." 

His little friend set to work at once, and the food 
and coffee soon banished drowsiness. A number of 
men were similarly engaged around him. But they 
did not feast long. Like giants refreshed, they 
returned to the scene of combat, while others took 
their places. 

And what a scene it was ! Despite all that had 
been done, the hall might be described as waist-deep 
in letters ! The fever had not yet abated. It 
seemed as if the whole world had concentrated its 
literary produce into one mighty avalanche on St. 
Martin's-le- Grand ! 

The midnight mails worked off some of this, but 
a large portion of it still remained to be disposed of 
on Christmas-day, together with what the mails 
brought in on that morning, but the officers worked 
so well that between nine and ten on Christmas 
morning all were allowed to go home, with the 
exception of twenty- six, who volunteered to re- 
main. 

Thus the battle was fought and won ; the tables 
were cleared ; the fever was subdued ; and the pulse 



390 POST HASTE : 

of the Post-Office was reduced to its normal con- 
dition. 

Think on these things, reader, when next you 
read the little card that wishes you "a merry 
Christmas ! " 

Some of the facts and results connected with this 
great battle are worth recording. The number of 
extra bags and sacks received at the chief office 
altogether on that occasion was 1401. The number 
of extra bags despatched was 2269; all of them 
were crammed full to their mouths, and the 
aggregate weight of these extra mails was 197 
tons. 

To convey these from the chief office 176 extra 
vans were used, and 75 extra carts. As nearly as 
could be estimated, the number of extra letters and 
packets was not less than four millions. There was 
a vast increase, also, in the registered correspond- 
ence — to the extent of thirty-one thousand in excess 
of the ordinary numbers. 

During these three days some of the men did 
nearly thirty hours' extra duty, besides performing 
their ordinary work. The continuous attendance at 
the ofiice of some of them varied from forty to 
forty-eight hours, and the total increase to the 
revenue on that auspicious but trying occasion was 
estimated to be about twenty thousand pounds 
sterling I 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY S MAILS. 



391 



Phil Maylands and Peter Pax were among those 
who had volunteered to remain after the press of 
work was over ; and it was not till the afternoon of 
Christmas-day that they finally, and simultaneously, 
plunged into their beds and oblivion. 



392 POST HASTK 



CHAPTEE XXVIII. 

THE STORMING OF ROCKY COTTAGE AND OTHER MATTERS. 

Years flew by. The daily routine at St. 
Martiii's-le- Grand went on ; the mails departed 
and came in with unvarying regularity ; in the 
working of the vast machine good men and boys 
rose to the surface, and bad ones went down. 
Among the former were Phil Maylands and Peter 
Pax. 

The latter, in course of time, rose to the rank 
of Inspector, in which condition he gradually 
developed a pretty pair of brown whiskers and a 
wonderful capacity for the performance of duty. 
He also rose to the altitude of five feet six inches, 
at which point he stuck fast, and continued the 
process of increase laterally. Pax, however, could 
not become reconciled to city life. He did his 
work cheerfully and with all his might, because 
it was his nature so to do, but he buoyed up his 
spirits — so he was wont to say — by fixing his eye 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 303 

on the Postmaster-Generalship and a suburban 
villa on the Thames. 

His friend Phil, on the contrary, was quite 
pleased with city life, and devoted himself with 
such untiring energy to his work, and to his own 
education, that he came ere lonsj to be noted as 
the youth who knew everything. Faults he had, 
undoubtedly, and his firm, severe way of expressing 
his opinions raised him a few enemies in the Post- 
Office, but he attained at last to the condition of 
being so useful and so trustworthy as to make men 
feel that he was almost indispensable. They felt as 
if they could not get on without him. 

When man or boy comes to this point, success is 
inevitable. Phil soon became a favourite with the 
heads of departments. The Chief of the Post-Office 
himself at last came to hear of him, and, finding 
that he was more than capable of passing the 
requisite examinations, he raised him from the 
ranks and made him a clerk in the Savings-Bank 
Department. 

Having attained to this position, with a good 
salary for a single man, and a prospect of a steady 
rise, Phil set about the accomplishment of the 
darling wish of his heart. He obtained leave of 
absence, went over to the west of Ireland, and 
took Eocky Cottage by storm. 

"Mother dear," he said, almost before he had 



394 POST HASTE : 

sat down, " I 'm promoted. I 'm rich — compara- 
tively. I've taken a house — a small house — at 
Nottinghill, and your room in it is ready for 
you; so pack up at once, for we leave this to- 
morrow afternoon." 

" You jest, Phil." 

" I 'm in earnest, mother." 

"But it is impossible," said the good lady, 
looking anxiously round ; " I cannot pack up on 
so short notice. And the furniture — " 

"It's all arranged, mother," said Phil, stroking 
the curls of a strapping boy who no longer went 
by the name of Baby, but was familiarly known as 
Jim. " Being aware of your desire to get rid of the 
furniture, I have arranged with a man in Howlin' 
Cove to take it at a valuation. He comes out to 
value it this evening, so you Ve nothing to do but 
pack up your trunks. With the aid of Madge and 
Jim we '11 manage that in no time." 

"Sure w^e'll do it in less than no time!" cried 
Jim, who was a true son of Erin. 

"You see, mother," continued Phil, "my leave 
extends only to four days. I have therefore 
ordered a coach — a sort of Noah's Ark — the 
biggest thing I could hire at the Cove — to take 
you and all your belongings to the railway to- 
morrow evening. We'll travel all night, and so 
get to London on Thursday. May expects you. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 395 

May and I have settled it all, so you needn't look 
thunderstruck. If I hadn't known for certain that 
you 'd be glad to come and live with us I would 
not have arranged it at all. If I had not known 
equally well that your fluttering bird of a heart 
would have been totally upset at the prospect, I 
would have consulted you beforehand. As it is, 
the die is cast. Your fate is fixed. Nothing can 
reverse the decrees that have gone forth, so it 's 
as well to make your mind easy and go to work." 

Mrs. Maylands wisely submitted. Three days 
afterwards she found herself in London, in a very 
small but charming cottage in an out-of-the-way 
corner of Nottinghill. 

It was a perfect hijou of a cottage ; very small — 
only two stories — with ceilings that a tall man could 
touch, and a trellis- work porch at the front door, 
and a little garden all to itself, and an ivy wall that 
shut out the curious public, but did not interfere 
with the sky, a patch of which gleamed through 
between two great palatial residences hard by, like 
a benignant eye. 

" This is our new home, mother, and we have got 
it at such a low rent from Sir James Clubley, our 
landlord, that your income, coupled with May's 
salary and mine, will enable us easily to make the 
two ends meet, if we manage economically." 

As he spoke, Phil seized the poker, and, with an 



396 POST HASTE : 

utter disregard of the high price of coal, caused the 
fire to roar joyously up the chimney. 

It was a brilliant winter day. White gems 
sparkled on the branches of the trees, and Jim 
was already commencing that course of romping 
which had, up to that date, strewn his path through 
life with wreck and ruin. Madge was investigating 
the capabilities of cupboards and larders, under the 
care of a small maid-of-all-work. 

" May won't be home till after dark," said Phil. 
" She could not get away from duty to meet us. I 
shall telegraph to her that we have arrived, and 
that I shall meet her under the portico of the Post- 
Office and fetch her home this evening." 

'' It is an amazing thing that telegraph ! To 
think that one can send messages and make ap- 
pointments so quickly ! " remarked Mrs. Maylands. 

" Why, mother," said Phil, with a laugh, " that is 
nothing to what can be — and is — done with it every 
day. I have a friend in the City who does a 
great part of his business with India by telegraph. 
The charge is four shillings and sixpence a word, 
and if a word has more than ten letters it is charged 
as two words. A registered address also costs a 
guinea, so, you see, telegraphic correspondence with 
India is expensive. Business men have therefore 
fallen on thu plan of writing out lists of words, each 
of which iii» ans a longish sentence. This plan is so 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 397 

'thoroughly carried out that books like thick dic- 
tionarieii are now printed and regularly used. — AVhat 
would you think, now, of ' Obstinate Kangaroo ' for 
a messasre ?" 

o 

" I would think it nonsense, Phil." 

" Nevertheless, mother, it covers sense. A Quebec 
timber- merchant telegraphed these identical words 
the other day to a friend of mine, and when the friend 
turned up the words ' obstinate kangaroo ' in his 
corresponding code, he found the translation to be, 
* Demand is improving for Ohio or Michigan white 
oak (planks), 16 inches and upwards.'" 

" You don't say so ! " exclaimed Mrs. May lands, 
raising both hands and eyebrows. 

" Yes I do, mother, and in my City friend's code 
the word ' Blazing ' means ' Quality is approved^ 
while ' Blissful ' signifies * What is the smallest 
quantity you require ?'" 

" Do you mean, Phil," asked the widow, with a 
perplexed look, " that if I were a man of business, 
and wanted to ask a customer in India what was 
the smallest quantity of a thing he required, I should 
have to telegraph only the word ' Blissful ' t " 

" Only that, mother. A blissful state of brevity 
to have come to, isn't it ? And some of the tele- 
graph clerks fall into queer mistakes, too, owing to 
their ignorance. One of the rules is that the words 
sent must be bona fide words— not a mere unmean- 



398 POST HASTE : 

ing arrangement of letters. My City friend told 
me that on three different occasions telegrams of his 
were refused, because the words were not known, 
yet each of them was taken from the Bible ! One 
of the telegrams was, ' Blastus unholy.' " 

" Oh, Phil, how can you !" exclaimed Mrs. May- 
lands, with a shocked look. 

" Well, mother, what's wrong in that V* 

" You know very well, Phil, that ' Blast us * is 
not in the Bible at all, and that it is a very awful 
species of slang swearing." 

" So the telegraph clerk thought," returned Phil, 
" but when my City friend pointed out that Blastus 
was ' the king's chamberlain ' they were obliged to 
let the telegram go. ' Blastus * stands for ' superior 
quality! and ' unholy ' for ' Offer is open for three days 
from time of despatch of telegram.* Using the same 
code, if a merchant wants to ask a Calcutta friend 
the question — ' How is the coming crop as regards 
extent and appearance V he merely telegraphs the 
word ' Hamlet.' If he wishes to say ' Bills of lading 
go forward hy this mail, Invoices will follow' he 
has only to telegraph * Heretic! For the most part 
the compilers of these codes seem to have used the 
words arbitrarily, for the word ' Ellwood' has no 
visible connection with the words 'Blue Velvet' 
which it represents ; neither is there connection 
between * Doves ' and * French Brandy! iior between 



A TALE OP HER MAJESTY^S MAILS. 399 

* Collapse ' and ' Scotch Coals! though there does seem 
to have been a gleam of significance when they fixed 
on * Doivnward * to represent ' Irish Whisky ' " 

"That's true, Phil, there was a touch of sense 
there, if not sarcasm," said the widow heartily, for 
she was an abhor rer of strong drink ! 

" Then, mother, think of the saving of time accom- 
plished by the telegraph. In days not long past, if 
a merchant in India wished to transact business 
with another in New York he had to write a letter 
which took months to make the voyage out, and his 
correspondent had to write a reply which took about 
the same time to return. Now, not long ago tlie 
head of an Indian house wanted a ship-load of 
something (I forget what) from New York. He 
telegraphed a few unconnected words to my City 
friend in London. If there had been no obstruction 
of any kind the message could have been flashed 
from Bombay to London in a few seconds ; as it was, 
it made the journey in three hours. My friend, who 
received it in the forenoon, telegraphed to New York, 
transacted the business, received a reply from New 
York, and telegraphed back to Bombay that the 
order was given and in process of execution before 
five P.M. on the same day. Thus a commercial 
transaction between India and America, via England, 
involving, perhaps, thousands of pounds, was com- 
X>leted at the cost of a few pounds between breakfast 



400 fOST HxiSTE : 

and dinner. In other words, Bombay aroused New 
York to action by means of a flash of electricity 
within twenty -four hours." 

"Phil/' remarked Mrs. Maylands, with a sigh, 
"don't you think that man has now made almost 
all the discoveries that it is possible to make ?" 

" Why, no, mother, I think he is only on the 
threshold of discovery yet. The thought has some- 
times come into my mind with tremendous power, 
that as God is infinite, and His knowledge infinite, 
there is, as it were, a necessity that we shall go on 
learning something new for ever ! — But that is too 
deep a subject to enter on just now," said Phil, 
rising, "for I must go and send off my telegram 
to May — she will be anxious to hear about you, 
poor girl. You must not be troubled when you see 
how the roses have faded from her cheeks. She is 
in good enough health, but I fear the telegraph 
service is too heavy for her, and the City air is not 
so bracing as that of the west of Ireland." 

Mrs. Maylands was quite prepared for the change 
referred to, for she knew, what Phil did not know, 
that it was neither the telegraph nor the City that 
had robbed May of the bloom of youth and health. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 401 



CHAPTEE XXIX. 

DESCRIBES AN INTERVIEW AND A RECONTRE. 

One frosty winter afternoon Sir James Clubley 
sat in his chambers, having finished dinner, and 
toasted his toes vrhile he sipped his wine and 
glanced languidly over the Times. 

Sir James was a lazy, good-natured man, in what 
is sometimes styled easy circumstances. Being 
lazy, and having nothing to do, he did nothing — 
nothing, that is, in the way of work. He found 
the world enjoyable, and enjoyed it. He never 
ran to excess — in truth he never ran at all, either 
literally or figuratively, but always ate, drank, 
slept, read, and amused himself in moderation. 
In politics, being nothing in particular, he was 
wont to say he was a Liberal- Conservative, if 
anything, as that happy medium, in which truth 
is said, though not proved, to lie, enabled him to 
agree with anybody. Everybody liked him, except 
perhaps a few fiery zealots who seemed uncertain 
2c 



402 POST HASTE : 

whether to regard him with indignation, pity, or 
contempt. It mattered not to which feeling the 
zealots leaned, Sir James smiled on them all 
alike. 

"That foolish fellow is going to be late," he 
muttered, glancing over his paper at the clock on 
the chimney-piece. 

The foolish fellow referred to Was George Aspel. 
Sir James had at last discovered and had an inter- 
view with him. He had offered to aid him in any 
way that lay in his power, but Aspel had firmly 
though gratefully declined aid in any form. 

Sir James liked the youth, and had begged him, 
by letter, to call on him, for the purpose of chatting 
over a particular piece of business, had appointed 
an hour, and now awaited his arrival. 

The muttered remark had just passed Sir James's 
lips when there came a tap at the door, and Aspel 
stood before him. 

But how changed from what he was when we 
last saw him, reader ! His aspect might have 
forcibly recalled the words, "was lost and is 
found." 

His tall, broad frame stood erect again as of old, 
but the proud bearing of the head was gone. There 
was the same fearless look in his bright blue eye, 
but the slightly self-satisfied curl of the lip was not 
there. He looked as strong and well as when, 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 403 

on the Irish cliiffs, he had longed for the free, wild 
life of the sea-kings, but he did not look so youth- 
ful ; yet the touch of sadness that now rested at 
times on his countenance gave him a far more 
regal air, — though he knew it not, — than he ever 
possessed before. He was dressed in a simple suit 
of dark grey. 

"Glad to see you, Aspel; thought you were 
going to fail me. Sit down. Now, come, I hope 
you have considered my proposal favourably. — The 
piece of business I asked you to come about is 
nothing more than to offer you again that situation, 
and to press it on you. It would just suit a man 
of your powers. — What ! No ?" 

The Baronet frowned, for George Aspel had 
smiled slightly and shaken his head as he sat 
down. 

*' Forgive me. Sir James, if I seem to regard your 
kind proposals with indifference. Indeed, I am 
sincerely grateful, especially for the motive that 
actuates you — I mean regard for my dear father's 
memory — " 

"How do you know, sir," interrupted Sir James 
testily, " that this is my only motive ?" 

"I did not say it was your only motive. Sir 
James. I cannot doubt, from your many expres- 
sions of kindness, that personal regard for myself 
influences you ; but I may not accept the situation 



404 POST HASTE : 

you offer me — bright with future prospects though 
it be — because I feel strongly that God has called 
me to another sphere of action. I have now been 
for a considerable time, and hope to be as long as I 
live, a missionary to the poor." 

" What ! A city missionary ? One of those 
fellows who go about in seedy black garments 
with long lugubrious faces !" exclaimed Sir James 
in amazement. 

"Some of them do indeed wear seedy black 
garments," replied Aspel, "under some strange 
hallucination, I suppose, that it is their duty to 
appear like clergymen, and I admit that they 
would look infinitely more respectable in sober 
and economical grey tweeds ; but you must have 
seen bad specimens of the class of men if you 
think their faces long and lugubrious. I know 
many of them whose faces are round and jovial, 
and whose spirits correspond to their faces. No 
doubt they are sometimes sad. Your own face 
would lengthen a little. Sir James, if you went 
where they go, and saw what they sometimes see." 

" I dare say you are right. Well, but have you 
seriously joined this body of men ?" 

♦'Not officially. I — I — hesitate to offer myself, 
because — that is to say, I am a sort of free-lance 
just now." 

" But, my young friend," returned Sir James 



A TALE OT HER MAJESTY*S MAILS. 405 

slowly, " T understand that city missionaries preach, 
and usually have a considerable training in theology ; 
now, it is not very long ago since you were a — 
excuse me — I — I shrink from hurting your feelings, 
but—" 

" A drunkard, Sir James/' said Aspel, looking 
down and blushing crimson. "State the naked 
truth. I admit it, with humiliation and sorrow ; 
but, to the everlasting praise of God, I can 
say that Jesus Christ has saved me from drink. 
Surely, that being the case, I am in some degree 
fitted to speak of the Great Eemedy — the Good 
Physician — to the thousands who are perishing 
in this city from the effects of drink, even though 
I be not deeply versed in theology. To save 
men and women from what I have suffered, by ex- 
horting and inducing them to come to the Saviour 
is all my aim — it is now my chief ambition." 

Sir James looked inquiringly at the fire and 
shook his head. He was evidently not convinced. 

" There is truth in what you say, Aspel, but by 
taking this course you sacrifice your prospects 
entirely — at least in this life." 

" On the contrary. Sir James, I expect, by taking 
this course, to gain all that in this life is worth 
living for." 

" Ah ! I see, you have become religiously mad," 
said Sir James, with a perplexed look ; " well, 



406 POST HASTE : 

Aspel, you must take your own way, for I am aware 
that it is useless to reason with madmen ; yet I can- 
not help expressing my regret that a young fellow 
of your powers should settle down into a moping, 
melancholy, would-be reformer of drunkards." 

To this Aspel replied with a laugh. 

" Why, Sir James," he said, " do I look very 
moping or melancholy ? If so, my looks must 
belie my spirit, for I feel very much the reverse, 
and from past experience — which is now consider- 
able — I expect to have a great deal of rejoicing in 
my work, for it does not all consist in painful 
strivings with unrepentant men and women. Oc- 
casionally men in our position know something of 
that inexpressible joy which results from a grateful 
glance of the eye or a strong squeeze of the hand 
from some one whom we have helped to pluck from 
the very edge of hell. It is true, I do not expect 
to make much money in my profession, but my 
Master promises me sufficient, and a man needs no 
more. But even if much money were essential, 
there is no doubt that I should get it, for the silver 
and gold of this world are in the hands of my Father." 

" Where do you work ?" asked Sir James abruptly. 

"Chiefly in the neighbourhood of Archangel 
Court. It was there I fell and sinned ; it was 
there my Saviour rescued me : it is there I feel 
bound to labour." 



^TAI.E OF HIK MAJESTY'S MAILS. 407 

.r w.ll I ^vou•t press this matter further," 
" Ve-^y ^'^^' I :;°;„ . l ^„t remember, if you ever 
said the Baronet, nsmg b ^^ ^^ 

get into a better frame of mmd,i 

^To^lr^d ana various were the thoughts 0^ 
.eformed drunkard tj.t«n-l^^^^^^^^_ 

friend's abode and walked ^l^J'^J j^., ^^eart 

There was a strange feeing ^-^^j ,,, eansed 

by the sacrifice of ^^oUd y . .^.^ ^^ ^^^^^, 

for that had cost hm no effort, i ^.^ 

soul that he had ^^^^J^^^J'^^, te been un- 
temporal advancement, ^ei^e^ ^^^^^, 

^^^^"^■r^U\!:rnoVrwta; The hopes 
''"'^^.^^^^^TrL had truly referred to ought to have 
and joys which he had tr y ^^^heless his 

,een as strong -^-^jrH^gan to think of 
spirit was -f ^^^ f .e had fallen, and of the 
the P°-^-\*7 "';t,i°H have done for Christ 
great amount of good h«J ^ ,y, thought he 

in a higher sphere of society 

repelled as a ^^'^^^^^^'^^Sttor.nA he stopped, 
^, he came ^^l^^^^^^, ,, people, busses, 



408 POST HASTE : 

led astray by the man who wished to compass his 
ruin, but who was eventually made the willing in- 
strument in bringing about his salvation. He 
thought of the scowling look and clenched fist of 
poor Bones as he had stood there, long ago, under 
the grand portico. He thought of the same man on 
his sick-bed, with clasped hands and glittering eyes, 
thanking God that he had been brought to the gates 
of death by an accident, that his eyes and heart 
had been opened to see and accept Jesus, and that 
he had still power left to urge his friend (George 
Aspel) to come to Jesus, the sinner's Eefuge. He 
thought also of the burglar's death, and of the fading 
away of his poor wife, who followed him to the 
grave within the year. He thought of the orphan 
Tottie, who had been adopted and educated by Miss 
Stivergill, and was by that time as pretty a speci- 
men of budding womanhood as any one could desire 
to see, with the strong will and courage of her 
father, and the self-sacrificing, trusting, gentleness 
of her mother. But above and beyond and under- 
lying all these thoughts, his mind kept playing 
incessantly round a fair form which he knew was 
somewhere engaged at that moment in the building 
at his side, manipulating a three-keyed instrument 
with delicate fingers which he longed to grasp. 

Ah ! it is all very well for a man to resolve to 
tear an idol from his heart; it is quite another 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY*S MAILS. 409 

thing to do it. George Aspel had long ago given 
up all hope ot winning May Maylands. He not 
only felt that one who had fallen so low as he, 
and shown such a character for instability, had no 
right to expect any girl to trust her happiness to 
him ; but he also felt convinced that May had no 
real love for him, and that it would be unmanly to 
push his suit, even although he was now delivered 
from the power of his great enemy. He deter- 
mined, therefore, to banish her as much as possible 
from his mind, and, in furtherance of his purpose, 
had conscientiously kept out of her way and out of 
the way of all his former friends. ■ 

Heaving a little sigh as he dismissed her, for the 
ten- thousandth time, from his mind, he was turn- 
ing his back on the Post- Office — that precious 
casket which contained so ricli but unattainable a 
jewel — when he remembered that he had a letter in 
his pocket to post. 

Turning back, he sprang up the steps. The 
great mouth was not yet wide open. The evening 
feeding-hour had not arrived, and the lips were only 
in their normal condition — slightly parted. Having 
contributed his morsel to the insatiable giant, Aspel 
turned away, and found himself face to face with 
Phil Maylands. 

It was not by any means their first meeting since 
the recovery of Aspel, but, as we have said, the 



410 POSTHASTE: 

latter had kept out of the way of old friends, and 
Phil was only partially excepted from the rule. 

" The very man I wanted to see !" cried Phil, with 
gleaming eyes, as he seized his friend's hand. 
"I've got mother over to London at last. She's 
longing to see you. Come out with me this even- 
ing — do. But I'm in sudden perplexity : I've just 
been sent for to do some extra duty. It won't take 
me half an hour. — You're not engaged, are you?" 

" Well, no — not particularly." 

" Then you'll do me a favour, I'm sure you will. 
You'll mount guard here for half an hour, won't 
you ? I had appointed to meet May here this even- 
ing to take her home, and when she comes she 'U not 
know why I have failed her unless you — " 

" My dear Phil, I would stay with all my heart," 
said Aspel hastily, "but — but — the fact is — I've 
not seen May for a long time, and — " 

"Why, what on earth has that to do with it?" 
asked Phil, in some surprise. 

" You are right," returned Aspel, with a depre- 
cating smile, " that has nothing to do with it. My 
wits are wool-gathering, Phil. Go : I will mount 
guard." 

Phil was gone in a moment, and Aspel leaned his 
head on his arm against one of the piUars of the 
portico. He had scarcely breathed a prayer for 
guidance when May approached. She stopped 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY's MAILS. 411 

ibruptly, flushed slightly, and hesitated a moment, 
:hen, advancing with the hearty air of an old play- 
late, she frankly held out her hand. 

This was enough for Aspel. He had been 
[depressed before; he was in the depths of de- 
Ispair now. If May had only shown confusion, or 
shyness, or anything but free-and-easy goodwill, 
hope might have revived, but he was evidently 
nothing more to her than the old playmate. Hope 
therefore died, and with its death there came over 
Aspel the calm subdued air of a crushed but resigned 
man. He observed her somewhat worn face and 
his heart melted. He resolved to act a brother's 
part to her. 

"I'm so glad to meet you at last. May !" he said, 
returning the kindly grasp of the hand with interest, 
but quite in a brotherly way. 

"You might have seen me long ago. Why did 
you not come ? We would all have been so glad to 
see you." 

May blushed decidedly as she made this reply, 
but the shades of evening were falling. Moreover, 
the pillar near to which they stood threw a deep 
shadow over them, and Aspel did not observe it. 
He therefore continued — in a quiet, brotherly 
way— 

" Ah ! May, it is cruel of you to ask that. Yon 
know that I have been unfit — " 



412 POST HASTE : 

"Nay, I did not mean that" interrupted May^ 
with eager anxiety ; " I meant that since — since — 
lately, you know — why did you not come ?" 

" True, May, I might have come lately — praise be 
to God ! — but, but — why should I not speak out ? 
It 's all over now. You know the love I once bore 
you, May, which you told me I must not speak of, 
and which I have tried to cure with all the energy 
of my heart, for I do not want to lose you as a 
sister — an old playmate at least — though I may 
not have you as — But, as I said, it's all over 
now. I promise never again to intrude this subject 
on you. Let me rather tell you of the glorious*' 
work in which I am at present engaged." 

He stopped, for, in spite of his efforts to be 
brotherly, there was a sense of sinking at his heart 
which slightly embittered his tone. 

" Is true love, then, so easily cured ? " 

May looked up in his face as she asked the ques- 
tion. There was something in the look and in 
the tone which caused George Aspel's heart to 
beat like a sledge-hammer. He stooped down, 
and, looking into her eyes, — still in a brotherly 
way, said — 

" Is it possible. May, that you could trifle with 
my feelings?" 

" No, it is not possible," she answered promptly. 

" Oh 1 May," continued Aspel, in a low, earnest 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 413 

]| ilone ; "if I could only dare to think, — to believe,— 
gjjgllo hope, that — " 

"Forgive me. May, I'm so sorry," cried her 

rother Phil, as he sprang up the steps ; " I did my 

est to hurrjr through with it. I'm afraid I've 
kept you and George waiting very long." 

"Not at all," replied May, with unquestionable 
truth. 

"If you could have only kept us waiting five 
minutes longer !" thought Aspel, but he only said — 
"Come along, Phil, I'll go home with you te 
night." 

The evening was fine — frosty and clear. 

"Shall we walk to Nottiiighill?" asked Phil 
" It 's a longish tramp for you. May, but that 's the 
very thing you want." 

May agreed that it was a desirable thing in every 
point of view, and George Aspel did not object. 

As they walked along, the latter began to wonder 
whether a new experiment had been made lately in 
the way of paving the streets with indiarubber. As 
for May, she returned such ridiculous answers to 
the simplest questions, that Phil became almost 
anxious about her, and finally settled it in his 
own mind that her labours in the telegraph 
department of the General Post-Office must be 
brought to a close as soon as possible. 

*' You see, mother," he said that night, after Aspel 



414 POST HASTE : 

had left the cottage and May had gone to her room, 
"it will never do to let her kill herself over the 
telegraph instrument. She 's too delicately formed 
for such work. We must find something better 
suited to her." 

" Yes, Phil, we must find something better suited 
to her. — Good-night," replied Mrs. Maylands. 

There was a twinkle in the widow's eye as she 
said this that sorely puzzled Phil, and kept him in 
confused meditation that night, until the confusion 
became worse confounded and he fell into an 
untroubled slumber. 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 415 



CHAPTEE XXX. 



THE LAST. 



Sitting alone in the breakfast parlour of The 
Kosebud, one morning in June, Miss Stivergill read 
the following paragraph in her newspaper : — 

" Gallant Rescue. — Yesterday forenoon a lady 
and her daughter, accompanied by a gentleman, 
went to the landing-wharf at Blackfriars with the 
intention of going on board a steamer. There were 
some disorderly men on the wharf, and a good 
deal of crowding at the time. As the steamer 
approached, one of the half-drunk men staggered 
violently against the daughter above referred to, 
and thrust her into the river, which was running 
rapidly at the time, the tide being three-quarters 
ebb. The gentleman, who happened to have turned 
towards the mother at the moment, heard a scream 
and plunge. He looked quickly back and missed 
the young lady. Being a tall powerful man, he 
dashed the crowd aside, hurled the drunk man — no 
doubt inadvertently — into the river, sprang over 



416 POSTHASTE: 

his head, as he was falling, with a magnificent 
bound, and reached the water so near to the young 
lady that a few powerful strokes enabled him 
to grasp and support her. Observing that the 
unfortunate cause of the whole affair was rolling 
helplessly past him with the tide, he made a 
vigorous stroke or two with his disengaged arm, and 
succeeded in grasping him by the nape of the neck, 
and holding him at arm's-length, despite his strug- 
gles, until a boat rescued them all. We believe 
that the gentleman who effected this double rescue 
is named Aspel, and that he is a city missionary. 
We have also been informed that the young lady 
is engaged to her gallant deliverer, and that the 
wedding has been fixed to come off this week" 

Laying down the paper, Miss Stivergill lifted up 
her eyes and hands, pursed her mouth, and gave 
vent to a most unladylike whistle ! She had barely 
terminated this musical performance, and recovered 
the serenity of her aspect, when Miss Lilly (^rop 
burst in upon her with unwonted haste and excite- 
ment. 

"My darling Maria!" she exclaimed, breathlessly, 
flinging her bonnet on a chair and seizing both the 
hands of her friend, " I am so glad you 're at home. 
It 's such an age since I saw you ! I came out 
by the early train on purpose to tell you. I hardly 
know where to begin. Oh ! I *m so glad ! — " 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 41 7 

"You're not going to be married?" interrupted 
Miss Stivergill, whose stern calmness deepened as 
her friend's excitement increased. 

" Married ? oh no ! Eidiculous ! but I think 
I 'm going deranged." 

"That is impossible," returned Miss SMvet^iM. 
** You have been deranged ever since I knew you. 
If there is any change in your condition it can only 
be an access of the malady. Besides, there is no 
particular cause for joy in that. Have you no 
more interesting news to give me ?" 

" More interesting news ! " echoed Miss Lilly- 
crop, sitting down on her bonnet, " of course I ha /e. 
Now, just listen ; Peter Pax — of the firm of Blurt, 
Pax, Jiggs, and Company, Antiquarians, Bird- 
Stuffers, Mechanists, Stamp-Collectors, and T don't 
know what else besides, to the Queen — is going to 
be married to — whom do you think ?" 

"The Queen of Sheba," replied Miss Stivergill, 
folding her hands on her lap with a placid smile. 

"To — Tottie Bones!" said Miss Lilly crop, with 
an excited movement that ground some of her bonnet 
to straw-powder. 

Miss Stivergill did not raise her eyes or whistle 
at this. She merely put her head a little on one 
side and smiled. 

"I knew it, my dear— at least I felt sure it 
would come to this, though it is sooner than I 
2 D 



418 POST HASTE : 

expected. It is not written anywhere, I believe, 
that a boy may not marry a baby, nevertheless — " 

" But she 's not a baby," broke in Miss Lillycrop. 
"Tottie is seventeen now, and Pax is twenty-four. 
But this is not the half of what I have to tell yon. 
Ever since Pax was taken into partnership by Mr. 
Enoch Blurt the business has prospered, as you are 
aware, and our active little friend has added all kinds 
of branches to it — such as the preparation and 
sale of entomological, and ichthyological, and other 
-ological specimens, and the mechanical parts of 
toy- engines ; and that lad Jiggs has turned out such 
a splendid expounder of all these things, that the 
shop has become a sort of terrestrial heaven foi 
boys. And dear old Fred Blurt has begun to 
recover under the influence of success, so that he is 
now able to get out frequently in a wheel-chair. 
But the strangest news of all is that Mister Enoch 
Blurt got a new baby — a girl — and recovered . his 
diamonds on the self-same day !" 

" Indeed !" said Miss Stivergill, beginning to be 
influenced by these surprising revelations. 

" Yes, and it 's a curious evidence of the energetic 
and successful way in which thiugs are managed by 
our admirable Post-Of&ce — " 

" What ! the union of a new baby with recovered 
diamonds ? " 

" No, no, Maria, how stupid you are I I refer, of 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. . 419 

course, to the diamonds. Have you not seen 
reference made to tliem in the papers ?" 

" No. I 've seen or heard nothing about it." 
" Indeed ! I 'm surprised. Well, that hearty old 
letter-carrier, Solomon Flint, sent that ridiculously 
stout creature whom he calls Dollops to me with 
the last Eeport of the Postmaster- General, with the 
corner of page eleven turned down, for he knew I was 
interested in anything that might affect the Blurts. 
But here it is. I brought it to read to you. Listen : 
*0n the occasion of the wreck of the Trident in 
Howlin' Cove, on the west of Ireland, many years 
ago, strenuous efforts were made by divers to 
recover the Cape of Good Hope mails, and, it will 
be recollected, they were partially successful, but 
a portion which contained diamonds could not be 
found. Diving operations were, however, resumed 
quite recently, and with most satisfactory results. 
One of the registered -letter bags was found. It 
had been so completely imbedded in sand, and 
covered by a heavy portion of the wreck, that the 
contents were not altogether destroyed, notwith- 
standing the long period of their immersion. On 
being opened in the Chief Office in London, the bag 
was found to contain several large packets of dia- 
monds, the addresses on which had been partially 
obliterated, besides about seven pounds weight of 
loose diamonds, which, having escaped from their 



420 POST HASTE : 

covers, were mixed with the pulp in the bottom of 
the bag. Every possible endeavour was used by the 
officers of the Department to discover the rightful 
owners of those packets which were nearly intact, 
and with such success that they were all, with very 
little delay, duly delivered. The remaining diamonds 
were valued by an experienced broker, and sold — 
the amount realised being about £1 9,000. After very 
great trouble, and much correspondence, the whole 
of the persons for whom the loose diamonds were 
intended were, it is believed, ascertained, and this 
sum proved sufficient to satisfy the several claim- 
ants to such an extent that not a single complaint 
was heard.* " 

" How strange ! Why did you not tell me of this 
before, Lilly?" 

"Because Mr. Blurt resolved to keep it secret 
until he was quite sure there was no mistake about 
the matter. Now that he has received the value of 
his diamonds he has told all his friends. Moreover, 
he has resolved to take a house in the suburbs, so 
that Fred may have fresh country air, fresh milk, 
and fresh eggs. Peter Pax, too, talks of doing the 
same thing, being bent, so he says, on devoting him- 
self to the entomological department of his business, 
in order that he may renew his youth by hunting 
butterflies and beetles with Tottie." 

" It never rains but it pours," said Miss Stiver- 



A TALE OF HER MAJESTY'S MAILS. 421 

gill. " Surprises don't come singly, it appears. — 
Have you read that ?" She handed her friend the 
newspaper which recounted the " gallant rescue." 

Miss Lillycrop's countenance was a study which 
cannot be described. The same may be said of her 
bonnet. When she came to the name of Aspel her 
eyeballs became circular, and her eyebrows appa- 
rently attempted to reach the roots of her hair. 

"Maria dear!" she cried, with a little shriek, 
" this only reminds me that I have still more 
news to tell. You remember Sir James Clubley ? 
Well, he is dead, and he has left the whole of 
his property to George Aspel ! It seems that Sir 
James went one night, secretly, as it were, to some 
low locality where Aspel was preaching to poor 
people, and was so affected by what he heard and 
saw that he came forward at the close, signed the 
pledge along with a number of rough and dirty 
men, and then and there became a total abstainer. 
This, I am told, occurred a considerable time ago, 
and he has been a helper of the Temperance cause 
ever since. Sir James had no near relatives. To 
the few distant ones he possessed he left legacies, 
and in his will stated that he left the rest of his 
fortune — which, although not large, is considerable 
— to George Aspel, in the firm belief that by so 
doing he was leaving it to further the cause of 
Christianity and Temperance." 



422 POST HASTE ; 

" Come, now, don't stop there," observed Miss 
Stivergill calmly, " go on to tell me that Phil May- 
lands has also had a fortune left him, or become Post- 
master-General and got married, or is going to be/' 

" Well, I can't exactly tell you that," returned 
Miss Lillycrop, "but I can tell you that he has 
had a rise in the Post-Office Savings Bank, with 
an increase of salary, and that May declines to 
marry Aspel unless he agrees to live with her 
mother in the cottage at Nottinghill. Of course 
Aspel has consented — all the more that it is con- 
veniently situated near to a station whence he can 
easily reach the field of his missionary labours." 

" Does he intend to continue these now that he 
is rich ? " asked Miss Stivergill. 

" How can you ask such a question ?" replied her 
friend, with a slightly offended look. " Aspel is not 
a man to be easily moved from his purpose. He 
says he will labour in the good cause, and devote 
health and means to it as long as God permits," 

"Good !" exclaimed Miss Stivergill with a satis- 
fied nod. — "Now, Lilly,'* she added, with the 
decision of tone and manner peculiar to her, " I 
mean to make some arrangements. The farmer 
next to me has a very pretty villa, as you are 
aware, on the brow of the hill that overlooks the 
whole country in the direction of London. It is at 
present to let. Mr. Blurt must take it. Beside it 



A TALE OF IIKR MAJESTY'S MAILS. 423 

[stands a cottage just large enough for a new-married 
[couple. I had already rented that cottage for a poor 
friend. He, however, knows nothincj about the 
matter. I will therefore have him put somewhere 
else, and sub-let the cottage to Mr. and Mrs. Pax. 
Lastly, you shall give up your insane notion of 
living alone, come here, with all your belongings, 
and take up your abode with me for ever." 

" That's a long time, dear Maria," said Miss Lilly- 
crop, with a little smile. 

" Not too long, by any means, Lilly. Now, clear 
that rubbish off the chair — it's well got rid of, I 
never liked the shape — go, put yourself to rights, 
use one of my bonnets, and come out xbr a walk. 
To-morrow you shall go into i^wn and arrange with 
Pax and Blurt about the villa and the cottage to the 
best of your ability. It's of no use attempting to 
resist me, Lilly — tell them that — for in this affair I 
have made up my mind that my will shall be law " 

Reader, what more need we add — except that 
Miss Stivergill's will did eventually become law, 
because it happened to correspond with the wishes 
of all concerned. It is due, also, to Solomon Flint 
to record that after his long life of faithful service 
in the Post-Office he retired on a small but com- 
fortable pension, and joined the " Rosebud Colony," 
as Pax styled it, taking his grandmother along with 



424 POST ITASTE : A TALE. 

him. That remarRable piece of antiquity, when 
last seen by a credible witness, was basking in the 
sunshine under a rustic porch covered with honey- 
suckle, more wrinkled, more dried-up, more tough, 
more amiable — especially to her cat — and more 
steeped in the previous century than ever. Mr. 
Bright, the energetic sorter, who visits Solomon 
whenever his postal duties will allow, expresses his 
belief that the old lady will live to see them all out, 
and^Mr. Bright's opinion carries weight with it ; 
besi|es which, Phil Maylands and May Aspel with 
her husband are more than half inclined to agree 
with him. Time will show ! 

Pegaway Hall still exists, but its glory has 
departed, for although Mrs. Square still keeps 
her one watchful eye upon its closed door, its 
waUs and rafters no longer resound with the 
eloquence, wit, and wisdom of Boy Telegraph 
Messengers, although these important servants of 
the Queen still continue — with their friends the 
letter-carriers — to tramp the kingdom " post-haste," 
in ceaseless, benignant activity, distributing right 
and left with impartial justice the varied contents 
of Her Majesty's Mails. 

r 
«, \ I THE END. 



PRINTED BY T. AND A. CONSTABLE, PRINTERS TO HER MAJESTY, 
AT THE EDINBURGH DNIVERSITY PRESS. 



P":dt 8s iC^w 



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